Burt Prelutsky

For my latest book, “The Secret of Their Success,” I interviewed 78 notable people, including the likes of Gerald Ford, Billy Wilder, Ginger Rogers, Steve Allen, Art Linkletter and the recently departed George Carlin and Jo Stafford. One of the many questions I asked them was the best piece of advice they had ever received. In most cases, the gist of their responses was that people should never cease pursuing their passion, whatever it might be.

Even I can’t quibble with that. I do believe that far too many people surrender their dreams far too soon. I mean, unless you believe in reincarnation, this one life here on earth is all we have. Why be so anxious to settle for less than you really want?

I have never been invited to give a commencement speech at a college graduation, and that is probably just as well, seeing as how the order of the day seems to be to praise the youngsters to the heavens, to insist that they’re the shining hope of the future. How could I, in good conscience, promote such nonsense when so many of them have squandered their parents’ hard-earned money majoring in such kiddy fare as black studies, Hispanic studies, lesbian studies and binge-drinking? When I see thousands and thousands of these so-called scholars gazing goo-goo eyed at Barack Obama as he utters endless banalities about hope and change, my own hope for the future doesn’t extend much beyond the middle of next week.

It always struck me that there was something wacky about teenagers, whose biggest decision in life has been to choose which of the dumb Hollywood comedies to go see this weekend, deciding what they’d be doing 50 years down the road. Quite honestly, I don’t know how I’d improve on the present system, but I think simple logic indicates there is something amiss about a 65-year-old selling insurance or fixing teeth or teaching phys ed because an 18-year-old, whose opinion he wouldn’t trust to pick out a magazine, got to pick out his career.