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Graduation Songs (Kind Of)

  Ah, graduation season. Is there anything more bittersweet? Well, sure, but we’re not talking about any of those things right now. What we’re doing today is investigating some of the better graduation themed songs that aren’t ostensibly about graduation. Why? Well, it’s my blog and I can write what I want to and I really don’t appreciate your guff at the moment. But more importantly, I think, we have to want to create a better world for our children. For too long, we’ve suffered through whiny, fawning tributes and promises to remember each other and staring at photographs while verbally masturbating over “the best years of our liiiiiiiiiives”.

  So I’ll be introducing some things that will hopefully make a bit more sense for the graduating high schooler or college… person. Collegiate? Is that a noun? Sure, why the hell not.

The Grim Reality that Lives Move on Without You
Long Way Home by Jukebox the Ghost

  While I do have one friend from high school that I would continue to qualify as a close friend (hi, Heidi!), I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen in importance in many people’s estimations. This isn’t a cry for attention or anything—this is just observable reality. And I would venture that, for many people, moving on and meeting new people are one in the same. So why have a song that places such value on friendships that will wither into “acquaintances” and nothing more?

  Friendships take work and dedication, and it’s hard to really put that kind of effort into someone you’ll only end up seeing a couple of times a year, on top of the already grueling schedule of a new job or post-secondary education. Plus, they’re growing and changing just like you, and every time you meet them they’re effectively going to be someone new. Eventually, they will be totally different from the person you once knew. That’s not being cruel, that’s being honest.

  One of the things I love about Long Way Home is that it doesn’t demonize either the past or the future. It just puts this in a way that we can all work with and understand—the desire to be remembered. Unlike other songs that venerate and idealize the past, Long Way Home keeps it a safe place, but understands that reality and the subject will continue to evolve without us. It just asks a simple question—Will you remember me?—hoping that the answer will be yes.

  I never said this was going to be a happy list.

Sometimes, You Have to Let Go
Day to Day by the Ting Tings

  As much as people put a lot of value on friendships and the like, I have a feeling for many of us (or maybe just some of us), the people who stick around are the ones who truly deserve it. There are a lot of people who you will meet, like, and want to be a permanent part of your life. And these people will be fantastic and wonderful while they’re around, but they don’t really need you—they use you when you’re around but will dump you without warning.

  But even beyond that, something our culture just doesn’t really train us to do is recognize and free ourselves from toxic friends. Those people who fly by night or abandon us when we really need them. And you know what? This is a larger issue in that we don’t really encourage our young folks to have self-esteem. Oh, sure, there’s the veneer of it, and older generations will inevitable whine about self-absorption, but how many of us entertain relationships with people where we allow ourselves to be hurt time and again?

  Day to Day is about writing things off. It encourages people to occasionally put themselves first when it is the best thing for them. It’s not selfish or advocating turning your back on someone who needs help. It’s about recognizing that some people aren’t worth your time. And I think sending people off into the world with that warning is pretty smart, considering these relationships are all too common.

Your Gonna Make Mistakes
Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine

  Not everyone goes on to college from high school. Not everyone graduates college, or does so in 4 years. Not everyone has a typical 9-to-5 “real” job. Not everyone is going to be so thoroughly perfect that they’re going to be a poster child for success.

  And that’s okay.

  We’re going to have shitty love affairs and we’re going to botch an exam. The important thing is to adapt, to know your limits and see how far they can be pushed. It’s about cultivating your own definition of success and abiding by that, even if it means getting knocked down every once in a while. The past is there to learn from, not yearn for. So you do you.

  Shake it Out is a little similar to Day to Day in terms of some of its overall message, but it’s a lot more embracing of the actual fall itself. It’s powerful and emotionally resonant, it doesn’t shame and it doesn’t mope.

  Or you can get the Taylor Swift mashup if that’s more your thing.

On the Fragile Duality of Human Existence
How to be a Human by Powerman 5000

  So, uh… humanity is full of contradictions or… something. Like… oil and… water.

  Look, I’ll be honest, I like this song and just wanted to include it. It is significantly less combative than other songs from the oeuvre. So… there’s that?

  Shut up. My blog, my list.

It’s Okay to be Who You Are
We are Pilots by Shiny Toy Guns

  There are a lot of songs about loving yourself, but very few that acknowledge that self-reflection often comes with a cost. It’s not so easy as to just say “Oh, you should love you!”, because that advice is inherently worthless—if it was a switch you could just flip on, well how do we ever let it get unflipped? Ever think of that, smarty pants?

  You are going to confuse a lot of people you love. Not maliciously, mind you, but it will happen. And as long as you understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, well, it’s all on the path to self-discovery. As long as you keep that dialogue open, well, it may not end well, but you did your due diligence. And few people can say that.

  We are Pilots is a song that is near and dear to me. I first heard it when I was going through a very rough patch, and it provided a way to understand that, while my journey was perhaps ugly and bit scorched, it made me me. And I’m fucking awesome.

  And modest.

You’re Not Alone
No Home by Nico Vega

  Sure, I’ve said some horrible things about people abandoning you, and I’m not going to take it back. People can be unreliable and change in directions both you and they never expected. So don’t hold them to some weird standard—let them go.

  But also acknowledge that you aren’t alone. You may not be able to “go home again” (that is to say, to the safety of the past), but you can build a new home with the people you find in the future. Just because the community that has been foisted upon you has been taken away doesn’t mean that you have to strike out eternally on your own. That’s the path of serial killers and clowns.

  But I repeat myself.

  Although there is a relationship component of the song, I think the bigger thrust for a graduation theme is one of community building and support. While there is the longstanding myth of the hardscrabble loner who builds everything him- or herself, I think the much more realistic rendition acknowledges that we’re all a part of something greater. That sometimes, the greatest thing we can do is reach out to others and help them on their own path.

  In other words, offer to be their home when all seems lost.

  So much better than remembering that time Karen got wasted at prom and threw up on Kevin.

The Future is Built Upon the Past
The Great Unknown by Jukebox the Ghost

  While there is a general understanding that the future is looming above everyone’s heads like a big, unknowable flamingo balloon of terror, there seems to be an irritating tendency to encourage people to walk backwards toward it. Apparently, ass-first is the way to meet any challenge, which certainly explains why I failed my first driver’s test.

  The point I’m making is that the continuing fetishization of what has come before doesn’t encourage active reflection; instead, it recommends that people live, work, and die within the warm glow of times where we’ve thrived. And while nostalgia isn’t inherently a bad thing, isn’t character created and measured by the work we’ve had to endure?

  In Jukebox the Ghost’s second entry on this list, The Great Unknown acknowledges that things to come are scary, but doesn’t seek the warm and safe cocoon of the past. Instead it pushes its audience forward, understanding that there are unforeseen challenges that await us all. It encourages bravery based on the integrity of the listener, integrity gained by past experience.

  “So let go, you’re on your own,” the chorus warns us. “So let go of the world you know,” it bides us. “There’s something waiting for you,” it promises us. It may be scary, but it will be worth it in the end.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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