It is graduation season, and pre-COVID, I was occasionally asked to speak at a commencement program, but this year most of the organizers just want to get it over with. I don’t blame them.

I doubt the graduating seniors are complaining about not having a speaker. They have only one goal: get out of there with your diploma.

No one, least of all 18-year-olds who have been adhering to dress codes all their lives, wants to hear some cranky old guy tell them to change the world. Heck, they just want to change into their t-shirts and sandals.

I’ll use my own graduation program as an example. We were sitting in a hot gym while the principal introduced a local preacher, who shared “The Secrets to a Successful Life.” Okay, I thought, this shouldn’t take long. 

The preacher’s Secret # 1 was about getting involved in the community. He elaborated on that for a while. Then came # 2: Do a lot of volunteer work. He started spelling that out too. Hmmm, it sure sounded a lot like Secret # 1. Anyway, my attention span kept drifting, and I figured he would stop at 5 secrets. I mean, how many secrets can a guy keep?

After about thirty minutes, he started in on # 6. So it would be a top-10 list, right? Until of course he got to # 11….and kept on going. I think he ended up sometime the next morning with 23 of these big secrets. He had lost me at “Hello.”

Let’s be honest. No one ever left a graduation and said, “That was a nice program, but you know, that guy’s speech wasn’t long enough.”

If a new high school grad wants any advice from me, I would make it short and sweet. 

I would start with the basics. Money can come in handy, but it sure doesn’t bring you love or happiness. Watch the news and you’ll see a lot of angry billionaires, every single day.

I would say to them, “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That happened to me. I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams.

I would tell them that sleep is underrated. Get plenty of rest, you won’t miss a thing.

I would tell them to buckle up, to use their headlights in the rain and fog, and to never text while driving. I don’t like to say anyone’s name on the news unless it’s for something good.

I would tell them to do a good deed for someone every day, without being asked. That always puts the cherry on my hot fudge cake.

And then, I would close with the really important stuff. I guess you could call it my personal Top 20 list for avoiding the mistakes so many of us have made.

For starters, a toothbrush is not built to last a lifetime. 

Don’t wait until your “Check Engine” light is on to schedule an oil change.

Stopping at a red light is a law, not a suggestion.

It’s okay to take a close look at your tires now and then, even when they’re not flat.

Always pay your electric bill BEFORE they shut off your lights.

Science experiments belong in labs, not in the forgotten food corner of your fridge.

Tattoos are best decided upon when sober.

Don’t marry someone just because they look good in jeans.

Styrofoam, plastic bags and aluminum foil are useful items. But not in the microwave.

That Tupperware container Mom sent is not disposable. Clean it up and send it back, for more free food.

Life is a balancing act. Those dirty dishes in your sink are not.

Take a break from your phone every now and then. It's not going anywhere.

Walmart parking lots are not NASCAR practice tracks.

Credit card companies will provide a lot of interest, but not the kind you want.

What you post on the Internet lives forever, as potential employers will inform you when you apply for a job.

Buy something on credit, and pay for it on time. Make a habit of that. A good credit rating will open a lot of doors.

If you park in front of a sign that says, “No Parking, Tow Away Zone,” it’s like putting $250 into a parking meter, only to learn your car has disappeared.

Always clean out the dryer lint filter. The person who used it before you probably didn’t do it, and the next person won’t either.

When your car is making an unusual noise, drowning it out with loud music is not a “fix.”

Got older relatives who are constantly battling serious skin problems? That’s you in a few years if you don’t use sunscreen.

There’s your unsolicited advice, Class of 2021. Congratulations! Now get out there and rock our world.

(David Carroll is a Chattanooga TV news anchor and radio host, and is online at  You may contact him at, or at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405.)

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