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COURSEY: When you come to the fork in the road, take it


Where does the time go?

It's graduation season again, which means we get to read plenty of news about high-profile commencement speakers (i.e. our president and wanna-be president), tempest-in-a-teapot commencement controversies (how many people turned their back on Sanford Weill at SSU?) and doom-and-gloom commencement statistics (the unemployment rate for 20-24-year-olds is five points higher than the overall rate nationally).

I've attended two graduations in the past 10 days, both relatively small, department-specific affairs, one at Sonoma State and the other at U.C. Berkeley. Both featured student speakers who impressed with their poise and charisma rather than overwhelming with their prominence. Neither had a hint of controversy. And the mood of each was steeped in optimism on the part of the graduates and pride on the part of their families and friends.

As every graduation should be.

As I sat at my son's graduation from the teacher credential program at SSU last week, it dawned on me that this month marks the 40th anniversary of my own graduation from high school. And at that point, this month's graduations became for me not just occasions to look forward, but to look back.

Forty years looks a lot different from the back end than it does from the front. To a graduate, it's an impossibly long time, and imagining himself on the other side of that gulf is almost unthinkable: A young person rarely can envision himself being old.

From my perspective, though, 40 years has gone by in a blink, and I have no trouble remembering that skinny, smooth-cheeked boy who felt so grown up in a cap and gown. In fact, I often believe he is still trapped inside this middle-aged (OK, beyond middle-aged) body, scratching to get out. Forty years has allowed a patina of rust and an aura of responsibility on the outside, but there's still a little spark and mischief beneath the surface.

For the graduate, commencement day is both a beginning (as "commencement" implies) and an ending. There is pride in the accomplishment of earning a degree, and — if the graduate has any sense of self-awareness — trepidation about leaving the sheltered embrace of academia and setting off untethered in the "real world."

Forty years down the road, though, graduation seems neither a beginning nor an end, but a crossroads. And it's not just a "Y" in the road, but a many-tined fork, leading to further forks, each of which will offer pitfalls and opportunities.

If I could give a commencement speech to today's grads, I would quote Yogi Berra. The Hall of Fame New York Yankees catcher is famous for his malapropisms, and my favorite is this:

When you come to the fork in the road, take it.

You won't always make the right choice. Sometimes that fork will lead to a blind alley or a dead end. But the best part of being on the front end of this 40-year discussion is that you are at a time in your life when all possibilities are open to you, any road can be explored.

Take advantage of that while you can. Unfortunately, the number of forks in your life is finite, and as you add responsibilities and commitments, the opportunity for exploration diminishes. It will never be greater than it is right now.

Carpe diem while you can. Seize the day.

I run the risk of becoming maudlin as I look back on 40 years. But while I feel nostalgia for other times, I don't want to go back. There are still a few forks left to be taken, and I look forward to continued exploration.

I just want to remind the graduates: Time flies when you're having fun.

Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.