High school commencement speeches are in the air, so here’s an open address to the roughly 30,000 Arkansas teenagers who will toss their mortarboards into the air after receiving their diploma this month.
Congratulations. The Arkansas high school graduation rate has been steadily improving, and you’re part of the reason why.
Education is a fundamental cornerstone of self-government, and it’s no small thing to have spent the last 13 years of your life going to school every day.
A diploma is a major achievement, but the ceremony at which you receive it is called a commencement, not a consummation. It may feel like you’re at a finish line. But your graduation isn’t a stopping point at which to revel in accomplishment.
When you’re handed that diploma, it signifies a starting point. It’s a license to move forward, a map full of new paths, a key to the kingdom of opportunity.
It’s not about what you did. It’s about what you will do next. It’s your login to the worldwide world.
Some of you, maybe a lot of you, have seen the television show MythBusters. What you may not have realized is that it’s kind of like your class’ own program.
It had its first full season when you were in the first grade. And its last episode aired a couple of weeks ago, in the spring of your graduation.
The two main hosts are entertaining guys who pick various myths (rumors, urban legends, incredulous movie scenes, etc.) and then test them out. At the end of each myth segment, they rate it either “busted,” “plausible” or “confirmed.”
I like the show because I’ve often wondered about some of the things they test, and the results are often surprising.
In that same spirit, this is a print edition of MythBusters about reading.
Having just finished several semesters of required English, you may be ready to relish a respite from the subject. But my goal is to dispel misconceptions and challenge you to rethink reading. I’m going to bust some reading myths.
• Myth No. 1: You don’t have time to read.
Allow me to invoke a millennial acronym, OMG! I see you reading all the time: texts, emails, Snapchats, Facebook posts, you name it.
I saw a great spoof of a high school yearbook ad once: It had all those rows of little square pictures, but in every one instead of smiling at the camera, the students were looking down at their phones.
The class of 2016 is chock-full of students who are constantly spending time reading.
Remember this about time: It’s the only irreplaceable, irretrievable, unrefillable resource. You can lose money, but make it back.
Lost time is lost forever. Spending it wisely means you should budget it like you do your money. So line-item some time for reading.
Which leads to…
• Myth No. 2: It’s not “real” reading unless it’s “literature.”
There are book snobs out there who sniff at reading pulp fiction or romance novels and other “unworthy” subject matter. Among the many literary rebukes applicable to that mindset, I like this one from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn: “If I was as ignorant as you, I wouldn’t let on.”
Reading is reading, period, and all reading is immensely beneficial.
True, the world of classical literature has influenced nearly everything in many ways that are fun to discover. For example, the traditional graduation song gets its title from Shakespeare, in Othello: “Farewell the … Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”
Whether you enjoy comic books (I always loved Peanuts), or self-help, or religious commentary, or pop poetry, or trivia, or history, or even op-ed pieces, whatever–it matters not what you read.
What matters is that you read something, anything.
• Myth No. 3: You’re not a good reader.
A corollary to this myth might be you don’t enjoy reading.
One way to become a better reader is to read about stuff you like. Whatever your interest, there’s a virtual library written about it. And the overflowing shelves are all right there in your smartphone.
If you have a passion or a hobby, you want to learn more about it, so reading up on it doesn’t even seem like “reading.” The great thing about reading is that it solidly embodies the old “practice makes perfect” saying. The more you read, the better you’ll get at it.
• Myth No. 4: Reading is boring.
This myth goes to attitude–you might as well say work is boring. But you will not have any career success without work.
Reading is a skill that pays dividends. It improves writing, organization, communication and more, and is useful for all the required applications at work: handbooks, policies, instructions, regulations, etc.
Developing it is no different than developing other marketable employment skills.
It also can help you stand out when seeking that first real job. Telling an interviewer you’re a good reader will often score more points than saying you’re punctual, responsible, etc., because those basic qualities are expected. Good readers aren’t.
I’ll leave you with a very practical quote from author Fran Lebowitz: “Think before you speak. Read before you think.”