Today I spoke to a gymnasium filled with high schoolers. I was charged with encouraging them to “win the day” and ask themselves, “what’s your plan?”

Wowza. Talk about underqualified.

Let me be clear: I took the charge to heart, and spoke from same. I’m always baffled by what teenaged ears might hear when an unknown bald dad speaks, and I try to defuse things right out of the gate by making it clear I’m not there to convince the youngsters I’m hip and cool. I was hip for about a week in 1989 and cool for five minutes in 1994, but that was it and certainly never both at the same time. The bald dad line usually gets a muted little chuckle and everything goes better after that. (As both a father and a public speaker, I can tell you that on the laughter equivalency scale, a muted chuckle from a teenager equates to a rip-roaring bar-buddy guffaw; you take what you can get.)

Anyways, as we say (yep, outsiders, it’s plural on purpose), I then launched into a description of my “career path,” which in fact is a guidance counselor’s worst nightmare and is more accurately expressed when “career” and “path” are sent to separate rooms and allowed their own scare quotes.

Kids, I really didn’t know what I was doing. Grew up a farm boy, logging in the winters, cutting hay in the summer, and running an all-season pitchfork. Put myself through nursing school by working as a cowboy in Wyoming and a roller-skating Snoopy in Wisconsin. Got out of the cowboy business because I was scared of horses, which is, as they say, inimical to the endeavor. Got out of the roller-skating Snoopy business because, well, a lot of reasons, but mainly, Have you ever smelled the inside of a Snoopy suit?

By then I had a nursing degree. As employability goes, that’s the wisest move I’ve ever made. Freed me up to wander off that path and off a series of cliffs with that nursing license tucked in my back pocket like a parachute. Haven’t worked as a nurse for nearly 30 years now, but renew the license every two years. Just last month, as a matter of fact. To be clear and out of respect to those practicing the profession professionally: You wouldn’t necessarily want me walking through your hospital door without what they call some “brushing up,” but the option is open.

Anyways (that’s twice now), I jabbered into that wireless microphone for just under an hour and managed to keep their attention (I cheat partway through by showing a video of my neighbor blowing up a silo with a homemade cannon … it’s easier to “win the day” if you have your own cannon) and I don’t know what they absorbed of use, but I hope they heard the part that came from my heart, the part about how life is richer if you run with more than one crowd, how some of us follow the path more than the plan, and above all I hope they heard something of gratitude in my words: Gratitude for my freedom, for all the help along the way, and for their young spirits, because tomorrow everything depends on them.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” (tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.

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