I tried to write a column based on "What I want to tell this year's high school graduates."
"You can be anything you want to be?" Hogwash. Yes, yes. President Barack Obama is a shining example. But Harvard University simply is not about to accept more than a handful of students from this area, and without Harvard, President Obama would be just another idealistic advocate for residents of impoverished largely black Chicago area communities.
Actually, I learned the hogwash of the "be anything you want to be" before I got to high school.
Blame the Hot Stove League, a 1950s-era precursor of Little League, Babe Ruth baseball and American Legion baseball.
Nowadays, when I lean back and yarn a bit, I can claim to have been a pretty doggone good second baseman. I can make that claim because the few people who actually saw me play day after day in the summertime pickup games we used to play are either deceased or long retired to Florida. They aren't around to note that, yes, we played on crude fields scratched out of clay-and-rock or covered with the cinders laid down by generations of railroad trains. But "bad hop" can't be the explanation for having missed a line drive hit directly toward me. "Lost my footing" doesn't explain why the baseball in my glove didn't make it into my throwing hand because I could not simultaneously pivot my feet and juggle the baseball - and that is the sine qua non of playing second base.
So, yes I was a pretty fair second baseman - looking back, selectively. I remember the good plays. As for the other plays - they made it plain that, try as I might to imitate my heroes, Gil MacDougald and Phil Rizzuto, I wasn't going to make it as a professional baseball middle infielder.
I could have tried for the rest of my life and not made that happen. I could have worked two jobs to save up money to pay for the best coaches and trainers, and I would not have been able to make that happen.
So why do we tell our young kids, "You can be anything you want to be?"
What they really need to know is, "It's a jungle out there."
After I absorbed the shattering lesson that I would never become a famous and wealthy pro baseball player, I thought about another career, that of movie star.
I did have one attribute in that regard. God did bless me with a voice that sounds good on radio or in recordings.
Unfortunately, movies are also visual. I was a flat-topped, pocket protector wearing, floppy-eared skinny kid with no chin. My acting talent was adequate - barely - for high school, largely because boys were in great demand for high school acting parts. The good-looking and/or well-built ones were at sports practice, and couldn't be at rehearsals.
So, after graduation, scratch being a movie star.
My mother insisted that I go from high school straight into college. That made really good sense if one looked at my high school transcript: Very good grades, National Honor Society, all that stuff. But inside my 17-year-old body was the judgment of a dweeby high school sophomore. I would have been better off to have joined a few friends and spent a few years in military service; we were more or less at peace in 1960.
But I didn't. I went to college to "be anything I wanted to be." For three years, that worked well enough.
In my junior year, I discovered women and booze.
Scratch "be anything," and replace it with "you need to claw your way back into school," after having gone from Dean's list to one D and four F's - three of them being in my academic major, English literature and one of those three being Shakespeare. In the English Lit classes of the 1960s, studying Shakespeare was as fundamental as studying Latin was for Roman Catholic priesthood candidates.
Oh. Why did I flunk Shakespeare? Term paper. No, no. It wasn't that I didn't write it. I did, using those 5x7 cards and typing it on a manual typewriter. But I didn't hand it in. So I had to repeat the class - paying for it myself, because there were no student loans or Pell grants back then, and working two jobs to get the money.
You can't "be anything" if you're acting stupidly.
In addition to the physical limitations that precluded my just-mentioned careers in pro baseball or in the movies, there is something called "sporadic terminal stupidity, self-inflicted" that jumps up and bites us, as I did to myself while in college.
Yet I recovered, after a fashion. Spending just shy of 50 years in the newspaper business provided enough money to raise a family and enjoy a few things in life. I wouldn't change much about that life - certainly not the blessings of having had six delightful kids.
But I would change the message to graduates. Scrap "be anything." Take honest, unsparing stock of yourself. Ask others what they see you as being suited to doing well. Cross the first bridge before daydreaming about the second. Live on 75 percent of your take-home pay. Invest the rest, and don't touch it except to buy a home.
Instead of "be anything," I suggest, "Be someone good, and do something that satisfies your wants and needs, with a little left over."
Denny Bonavita is the editor and publisher of McLean Publishing Co. in west-central Pennsylvania, including the Courier-Express in DuBois.