Talk of high school graduations fills the air for days and the chatter takes me back in time, to 1983 and my own footsteps across a south Florida stage.

Somewhere, there exists a picture of me receiving my high school diploma, but I haven’t seen the image for years.

What do I recall? Only the startled expression on my face.

The look makes sense now. Because that 18-year-old clutching the empty diploma cover – they mailed us the real thing later – did not know what he does now, despite his four-point-something grade point average. Nor did all the book learning and fancy graduation speeches prepare me for what should have been the single greatest lesson dispensed across 12 years of public education.

Life is hard.

I paid attention in high school, at least when I wasn’t cracking wise, falling in and out of love, and partaking in the occasional prank. I did well enough to merit scholarships to college, and yet I never learned that simple lesson – life is hard – until years later.

Perhaps it's because I am notoriously slow on the uptake, as my kin and friends will testify. Or maybe all those forgettable graduation speeches should have been a little less lofty and a little more practical.

What do I wish I had known then that I know? Oh, the list is long, but here’s the Cliff’s Notes.

Life is hard. The world won’t always be fair. It will rarely respond in ways that make perfect sense to you or that fulfills all your needs. Complaining about life being hard is like complaining about heat being hot. It changes nothing. And it’s silly, because heat is supposed to be hot. That’s why they call it heat.

Woody Allen is full of crap. No, I’m not talking about marrying your wife’s daughter, though that’s also morally reprehensible. Woody is frequently quoted as saying, “80 percent of success is just showing up.”

That’s ridiculous. Showing up is the bare minimum, like bubbling in your name on the SAT.

Want to succeed? Don’t just show up. Do more than the just-show-uppers. Have a better attitude. Do extra. And care – about more than just what’s in it for you.

Say goodbye to toxic people. We all know those folks. They wear their narcissism, self-absorption and never-ending drama like my generation wore the green bottles of Polo we got as graduation gifts. Treat toxic people like you would news of an explosive device. Run, because they are every bit as lethal.

There is no shame in changing your mind. In politics, learning new information and plotting a new course of action constitutes a mistake known as “a flip flop.” In the rest of life, changing your mind is called “not being an idiot.”

Pay attention, consider, learn. While the values that constitute your foundation won’t often change, your mind will – and that’s great. After September 11, 2001 – before some of today’s graduates were born – we all thought invading Iraq made sense. Today, 17 years later, not so much.

 I’ve also changed my mind about how cool it would be to have a cell phone – it’s annoying as hell – and the Star Wars movies, which, like me, also stopped being cool in 1983, right about the time the Jedi returned.

We talked a lot about changing the world back then, when graduation was upon us. We believed the world was a thing, a place, something badly in need of changing.

We were not completely wrong.

 But what we hadn’t yet seen, what no speech truly conveyed, was precisely how much the world would change us.

David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact