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NOTIONS: From a father to his sons upon their graduation

May 28, 2007

Dear Austin and

Zach:

Well, my sons, it's milestone week: your last day of high school; your 19th birthday; your mom and stepdad's move to new digs designed for you as occasional guests rather than fulltime residents. Next up: "Pomp and Circumstance," forgettable oratory and lots of unsolicited advice. And, of course, your big reward for 12 years of educational servitude: You get to move a tassel from the right to the left side of a rented mortar board.

Inevitably, someone at graduation will tell you this isn't an end, but a beginning. They'll define the word "commencement" to make sure you get it.

They're correct, of course. This is a beginning. But don't let 'em kid you. It's an ending, too.

It's most likely the end of some relationships with friends, teachers and neighbors. It's the end, at least for a while, of life in your hometown. It's the end of parents and stepparents weighing in on nearly every decision, setting nearly every standard, monitoring every coming and going.

Mostly, because you're twins headed for college on opposite coasts, it's the end of having one another as a constant presence: Austin and Zach, Zach and Austin, the one consistent reality for 18 years.

Oh, I know: Sibling rivalry being what it is, and each of you having developed your own strengths and interests, and each of you having been subject to constant pairing by others and forced sharing with one another -all that togetherness can be a frustrating, inconvenient shadow cast over your individuality.

I know, too, that your lights will shine bright when you're known in college, among new friends and teachers, as just you and not as half of a set.

But I also hope that someday soon you'll appreciate the blessings of being a twin, of having grown up with an equal with whom you could share all that your first 18 years of life threw at you: the divorce of your parents, our remarriage to others, the moves from house to house, the every-other-weekend visits, the constant concern over money, the injustices at school, your latenight battles over your school newspaper, your stepmom's death from cancer.

So count me in awe not only of what you've done and become as individuals, but also what you've become and accomplished together. Also note my hope that you'll keep in touch with one another despite the 3,000 miles that soon will separate you.

I suspect you'll hear something else at graduation. Someone likely will tell you that your opportunities are limitless, that your generation is ready for anything, that you can change the world.

I hope so, because many things sure need changing.

But I also hope you and your generation will redefine "world-changing." When I was your age, world-changing meant anti-war protests, exposing corruption, bucking "the establishment," ending discrimination, saving the planet, fighting poverty, whipping inflation-worthy causes all, worthy causes still.

But what you've taught me over the past 18 years (yes, parents learn from their kids) is the importance of changing the world on the microlevel, not just the macrolevel.

I know you could have balked at all those every-other-weekend visits, could have whined about the two-hour drives each way, could have complained about the impact on your ability to secure part-time jobs or spend time with your friends, could have demanded that we do something special every time you were here.

But you didn't (at least not when I was in earshot). Instead, you used the drive time to share your news. You made our home your home. You did everyday things while you were here. You brought your friends from time to time.

I appreciate that more than I've told you. I learned from your patient acceptance of a difficult situation-one you certainly didn't choose-to more graciously play the hands I'm dealt.

I appreciate, too, the sacrifice you made a few summers ago after your stepmom died. I know you would have had more fun living in Fort Wayne, being with your friends, being anywhere but with a man in mourning.

But you selflessly spent the time with me, and that helped more than you can know. I learned from your generosity that all the babyboomer whining about selfcentered "millenials" is nothing but stereotyping bunk.

I promise I won't get all sappy when you walk down the aisle. I won't embarrass you by screaming when they call your names. And I won't dump a bunch of forgettable advice on you (we'll leave that to the commencement speakers).

But I will miss those every-other-weekend visits. And walking to Qdoba for lunch. And hearing you berate one another over Madden Football in the basement.

And hey, if you're up for some company, I'll visit you from time to time (instead of the other way around). I can't wait to see whose world you're changing next.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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