John Andrews

It was a graduation to remember. Our grandson and his classmates looked great in their blue mortarboard caps with gold tassels. Parents beamed and cameras flashed. The speaker was brief, taking his text from Psalms: “Children are a gift from God.” Ian’s dad caught the whole thing on video.

Did I mention that Ian is five, and this was preschool commencement at Hosanna Lutheran? There was hardly a dry eye in the place as the graduates gave a fine choral rendition of “Kindergarten Here We Come.”

Our little crown prince won’t recall much about that day as the years pass, but be honest: What do you recall of substance about the graduation days you or your children went through? If you remember who spoke or the advice they gave, you’re a savant. If you can name, let alone still have, the gifts you got, you’re a packrat. It all fades.

What I still have and still treasure from completing junior high, high school, and eventually college, is some books my parents and other adults gave me. I felt honored that they took me seriously enough at this educational milestone to present me with the tools of further learning, formally inscribed and signed.

We of the gray hair, rattled by things like texting and tattoos, grouch that schools are being dumbed down and youth are going to the dogs. Sure, that’s been the complaint of every generation since Plato, but this time (we fret) it’s really happening. Then why not push back and compliment your graduate with a gift that will last, a book?

I don’t mean just any book. Ixnay on the latest from Oprah or Starbucks. Go for something more timeless, serious but short, not heavily political or religious yet edgy enough to reward the reader. If you’ve read it yourself, the personal connection will flatter your young friend. A bridge of ideas between you will span the coming decades.

“The Abolition of Man” by C. S. Lewis is less than 100 pages, delphically silent on the author’s beloved Christian faith, and came out long before Obama was born. Yet its powerful treatment of what truth is, how the world works, and what it means to really think, is as fresh as tomorrow’s headlines. It has changed many lives. I recently sent it to Ben Steiger, graduating from Bentonville High in Arkansas.

Equally sparkling in their brevity are “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat, a French parliamentarian who wrote in 1850, and “Introduction to Citizenship for New Americans” by Thomas Krannawitter of the Claremont Institute. The graduate who’s soon to be a voter will find them thoughtful guides to understanding the free society, without a speck of partisanship.

Bastiat was that rarity, a reflective statesman. A father of the breed was Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor in the 2nd century, who penned his remarkable “Meditations” while on military campaign. “My Early Life” by Winston Churchill is another example, closer to our own time. Either makes a memorable gift at this season.

Character forged in the fire seems to be the theme of my recommendations here. That wasn’t planned; I just grabbed some favorites off the shelf. It’s fitting, though, for the Class of 2008 as they ask themselves, “What now?” Help set their moral compass with books like Elton Trueblood’s “Abraham Lincoln: Theologian of American Anguish” or Robert Bolt’s unforgettable play about Sir Thomas More, “A Man for All Seasons.”

Whatever book you give, inscribe it with three A’s. Jot your affection for the person he or she is, your admiration for the summit reached with this diploma, and your anticipation of higher peaks the graduate will climb. Then sign it, date it, and feel great about it. You’ve given a gift that will last.


John Andrews

John Andrews is former president of the Colorado Senate and the author of "Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century"