Advice for graduating seniors

Life isn't about 'being the best you can be.' It's about recycling tuna cans, paying your auto insurance on time, and cleaning roof gutters.

Once again, the end of another academic year approaches. In high schools and colleges from coast to coast, seniors are wondering what skills will be required to successfully navigate the complex world of adulthood.

At commencement ceremonies, visiting speakers will trumpet upbeat platitudes such as "aim for the stars" and "be true to yourself." They're wonderful, inspiring concepts. Unfortunately, none of them provides any indication of the myriad tasks that confront average Americans every day. If someone came up to me now and asked, "What have you become now that you're grown up?" I could offer plenty of responses.

1. Motor Pool Supervisor. Which car is lowest on gas? Are all tires properly inflated? Automotive care can't be left to chance. Oil must be changed, insurance premiums paid, and vehicles kept clean to avoid the appearance of owner incompetence. It's a never-ending ride and I'm in the driver's seat.

2. Appointment Secretary. Hair cutting requires scheduling. So does window washing, furnace maintenance, commitments of every size and shape. The calendar must never be misplaced. All clocks need to be synchronized. Phone messages must be written down and not entrusted to some haphazard memory bank.

3. Bus Boy. Cups, plates, and cereal bowls appear everywhere during daylight hours as if spontaneously generated. Shuttling them to the dishwasher is my version of an ongoing ceramic harvest festival.

4. Locker Room Attendant. Any wet towels on the floor? Soap dispensers working properly? A good day is when the shower drain doesn't back up. A bad day is when the toilet tank makes that funny gurgling noise.

5. Ranch Hand. The Old West is gone, but there are still trees to trim, fences to mend, holes to dig, patios to power wash, and roof gutters to clean out. Shane had his six-shooter. I've got my leaf blower.

6. Animal Psychologist. Dogs are territorial. They need to be taught that not all territory in the house is theirs. They must be taught to respect their owners. In my case, I suspect they consider me little more than a walking kibble dispenser.

7. Environmental Engineer. Glass, plastic, paper, metal – clean them, sort them, manage the flow. This house is a waste stream and a river runs through it.

8. Labor Mediator. There is an ongoing bargaining process to hand off some of these tasks, but the negotiations often stall, and the cooling-off period is open-ended.

Oh well. Since no replacements are lining up, it means I don't need to fret about getting fired.

Jeffrey Shaffer writes from Portland, Ore.

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