Uncle Nunzi feels it’s his duty to make sure I don’t get a big head. He is not as impressed as some folks that the Review honored me for my 50 years as its columnist by putting my photo on the front page. Uncle reminded me my smiling face is likely lining the bottom of bird cages right about now.
And that lesson is one I would like to share with today’s graduates as they go out into the world to make their way. You have to be able to handle the ups and downs that life dishes out. At graduation, you’re led to believe that you’re hot stuff by your parents, aunts and uncles. The minute you doff your cap and gown and enter the real world, you are treated like the newspaper in the bottom of the bird cage. And man, do those parakeets unload on you. It’s not success you have to learn to handle in life, but failure.
I know this all sounds a bit bleak, but somebody has to tell you the truth. I have my Uncle Nunzi to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. You have this aging columnist. Don’t get down about it. Feel lucky. Sometimes a cold shower can do you good. You’re very special inside your small world to those who love you. On the outside, you begin anew as just another schlub who has a lot to prove.
You will find yourself surrounded by skeptics. Those good grades you got were nice. Real nice. They earned you a big hug from Aunt Carmella and probably a nice graduation gift. Out here, the A in Sociology won’t stop you from getting your ample butt kicked if you don’t apply yourself. Figure it out quickly. Your opinions that impressed your family as being brilliant are not all that interesting to the outside world until you earn its respect. There was only one Einstein, and the likelihood is you ain’t him. Yeah, I know I used the word “ain’t,” but sometimes the word has its place here in Jungleland.
Charles Darwin’s law, not the Golden Rule, is in play here. The weak don’t survive very well. Sometimes they don’t survive at all, especially if the Republicans take Congress this year. Uncle Nunzi taught me there is no job beneath you when you begin. All work honestly pursued is honorable work. Unless your folks own General Motors, you’re starting out at the bottom of the ladder. Maybe General Motors isn’t a good example since they’re recalling 11 millions of their cars, but you get the idea. Use that lousy, low-paying first job as a learning experience.
No, the boss isn’t always right. Often he or she nowadays is just another jackass who got lucky, but when you start out you’re in no position to judge. Remember how you are slighted, and make sure when you climb the ladder, you don’t repeat those slights.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can’t change the world for the better. You can. That should be your goal in climbing the ladder, but you need to acquire wisdom before you can do it. Your mother thinks you’re already the cat’s pajamas. She’s supposed to think that way. She’s your mother. But you’re not the cat’s pajamas, besides which, as Uncle Nunzi reminds me, cats don’t wear pajamas. The world will keep reminding you that you’re nothing special until you earn it.
Something very important to remember when you seek a career: You’re going to spend as much time, maybe even more, at your workplace than with the one you love (except of course if you’re in love with your secretary, which as Uncle Nunzi reminds me, can cause complications you are much better off avoiding). Try to find a job that’s something you love to do, even if it is not the job that pays the most money. You see, if you love your job, then it is no longer just a job. The luckiest people in the world are not necessarily those making the most money (although Uncle Nunzi reminds me that the two are not mutually exclusive), but the ones who love what they are doing.
Uncle thinks it might be useful if I share a couple of my work experiences with you. College placement services are not always helpful. When I graduated Temple as a hot shot broadcaster, their placement service suggested a job opening at a discount department store calling out the specials (“Twenty-five percent off garden hose today”).
My happiest jobs turned out to be the jobs where I was paid the least. You have to earn a living, but never, ever take a job just because it pays more. If you do, I guarantee you will be the grouch for the next 40 years who constantly reminds his colleagues at work just how crappy the job is. You must be able to respect the job to do it right. And you must always do the job right if you are ever to be happy.
Uncle adds that you should always buy fresh vegetables, not those in the supermarket freezer. Don’t ask. Uncle says that one of the keys to life is fresh produce. That and homemade wine.
It is time to go forth, not without trepidation, but nevertheless joyously.
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