Advice from this crummy COVID commencement

Posted 5/19/20

Friends, families, distinguished guests …. Bob. It is an honor to be here today to help the members of the Class of 2020 celebrate their great achievement. Graduates — well done! And …

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Advice from this crummy COVID commencement


Friends, families, distinguished guests …. Bob. It is an honor to be here today to help the members of the Class of 2020 celebrate their great achievement. Graduates — well done! And congratulations!

This is not, obviously, the graduation ceremony you dreamed about. There’s no stage to walk across; there’s no “Pomp and Circumstance;” no tossing your caps in the air or long lists of names and achievements. And, certainly, nobody thought you would have this lame of a graduation speaker.

But, perhaps, in all of that, is one of the most important things you can possibly learn as you head out into the world: your plans will rarely work out the way you picture them.

In fact, that idea is so true that it’s been a cliché for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. You’ve all heard some version of it, right? “While man makes plans, God laughs.” The Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke put it this way: “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” Even as bright and incisive a philosophic mind as the one belonging to Mike Tyson recognized the same phenomenon when he said “everybody got a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth.”

Well, I’m not sure I want to characterize 2020 as “the enemy,” but I’m almost positive we’re all feeling a bit punched in the mouth by the world of the last three months.

So, does that mean that plans are useless? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: plans matter more, as long as you also make *other* plans. What does that mean?

Lesson number two of 2020 comes from, of all places, the world of baseball. That’s right — baseball, and a little-known man who pitched in the 1920s named Firpo Marberry, who is credited with being the first relief pitcher. See, in the game of baseball, the way it was played in the 1920s, the guy who started the game as the pitcher was expected to finish the game as the pitcher. Until Firpo — yeah, I’m gonna find as many opportunities to use that name in this speech as I can — so, Firpo discovered that it gave him a certain advantage to save himself until later in the game. When everybody else was tired, and the other team had gotten used to the starting pitcher, in came Firpo to change it all up. Also, apparently, Napoleon had a similar strategy, always keeping some of his cavalry in reserve until late in the battle, when he would unleash them and mop up the battlefield.

The lesson is this: no matter how great your plan is, have something in reserve. My wife works for a gigantic company that operates with zero debt and substantial strategic reserves — they, and their employees, are not going to suffer from 2020. And, in fact, following this advice will give you an enormous strategic advantage: did you realize that, as a percentage of population, more millionaires became that way during the Great Depression than at any other period in American history. Had they all planned on the economy falling through the floor that day in October, 1929? Of course not — they were probably still discussing how Firpo blew the Senators’ chances of making the World Series. But, they had the reserves to make the most of an awful situation.

There’s one more lesson you should take away from this year of disappointments. A little over three months ago, you and me, we were all going through our days, free to come and go, high-fiving our friends, hugging our teammates after the big score, crowding up to the bar to order a drink on Friday nights. Our greatest annoyances were red lights, uncommunicative professors, and having to wait to use a machine at the gym.

How many of us stopped to appreciate how great our lives were three months ago?

My challenge to you, Class of 2020, is to re-learn appreciation and gratitude. Bad times pass, and these will, too. And good times come, and go, also. Recognize those good times, those times when life is going according to plan. Cherish them; celebrate them.

Congratulations, Graduates of 2020. And, in a personal note, to the most beautiful and graceful member of this class,congratulations, Elizabeth Kay! We love you, and are very proud of you.

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at, on Kindle, or through” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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