A Letter to a Very Special High School Graduate


School’s out and it’s time for me to give you some fatherly piece of advice, but as you know, I’m not much of a speaker. Besides, all the most profound things have already been said by others before me.

And those others were two American Bobs, namely Gale and Zemeckis, who wrote the screenplay for the best movie ever made: Back to the Future (Part I).

(Who said ¡Three Amigos!?)

It just so happens that the main character in the movie is a kid about your age, about to leave school, stuck in a period between the past and the future, something we call present. It also just so happens that I saw the movie for the first time when I was your age, about to graduate from high school, not knowing at all what I wanted to do.

I didn’t know it then, but in a way, seeing the movie changed my life. For years, decades, I quoted a line from the movie – “Someday, Jennifer, someday” – whenever Mom and I made plans or dreamed about doing something, and suddenly, or so it seems, I found myself on a stage speaking about Someday Jennifer, a novel I wrote. (Available on paperback, tell your friends).

Now, right after I saw the movie, I didn’t know what I was going to do the next fall, let alone “with my life,” but I do remember that I was so pumped and fired up after the movie that – just like Marty McFly when he returns to Lone Pine Mall – I ran all the way from the movie theatre to the hockey rink.

And I made a decision. I was going to go back home, and I was going to find Grandma’s vest somewhere. It wasn’t red, not orange like Marty’s, but it was going to have to do.

I’ve seen the movie dozens of times since that late afternoon in Joensuu. It was the movie I watched at night when you were a baby. I re-watched it once lying on a kitchen floor in Orillia, Ontario, with a 5-inch screen ten centimeters away from my nose at a time when I thought I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up – a hockey business something, still a bit vague. The Back to the Future DVD is the only DVD I have watched every single extra feature, and commentary and extra feature commentary on it. Every time I watch it, I learn something new.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve gleaned off it, and that I want to pass on to you.

Punctuality is a virtue. Marty’s shocked to be late for school, and rightly so. Not just because it’ll be his third tardy slip but because it’s good manners and because being on time makes things run smoother. This is such an important message that it’s repeated in the end when Huey Lewis sings “You better promise me I’ll be back in time.”

Choose your underwear carefully because you never know how it may shape your identity. (Fun fact: In France, they changed Marty’s underwear from Calvin Klein to Pierre Cardin, and consequently Calvin to Pierre).

Go for that audition even if you think you can’t handle the rejection. This is something your grandma also emphasized when I was about to give up on my job search and wasn’t even going to apply to a job that sounded interesting because I thought the odds were too long. “Don’t you reject yourself in advance,” she said, “let them do it.” Yes, some old man may think you’re just “too darn loud” but so what?

Set a goal and go after it. For Marty, it’s a beautiful 4×4 pickup truck and somehow, he does end up with it. We don’t know exactly how he got it, and what he had to do to get it, and while some people may think it’s unrealistic, that’s exactly how the world works. In mysterious ways. You keep doing what you do for a while, you change lanes and you learn new things and one day, when you open your garage door, there’s a black pickup truck. Just stay alert, keep an open mind, and say yes more often than no.

If a friend asks you to be at a mall parking lot at 1:15 am – do it. He must have a good reason for being there and for asking you, of all people, to be there. A good friend is worth his or her weight in gold. Have friends that are different from each other.

Watch out for Libyan terrorists.

If you realize, after, say six weeks that the movie isn’t going right, don’t be afraid to make a bold decision and replace the star. That’s what the Bobs did when they replaced Eric Stoltz with Michael J. Fox. You can always recast yourself, re-invent yourself.

Stand up to bullies. The world’s full of Biffs who think they get to run things just because they’re loud but just like Biff’s car after he chased Marty around Hill Valley, they’re full of shit. George’s solution to punch Biff in the face isn’t the best one but at the same time, he had no time to think, and he did what he thought was right. (It was the Fifties!)

It can be embarrassing, and you will trip over yourself and you will say “density” instead of “destiny” but do tell the people you like that you like them. Nobody doesn’t want to hear it. Also, be generous with compliments to people, it’ll make them feel good.

Keep an open mind. It’s easier said than done. Just look at Doc Brown. He’s a genius scientist with wild ideas but when a young man shows up at his door and tells him he’s from the future, Doc ridicules him and literally runs away from him. It’s very unlikely that you’ll meet a Future Boy, but you may meet a version of him, and it’d be a shame if you missed out on a great adventure just because you didn’t believe him.

Always bring enough plutonium for a trip back home. Catching a lightning is difficult.

However, if harnessing the power of a lightning is what you have to do, then go for it.

Use your creativity. Where some people saw a soapbox scooter, Marty saw a skateboard. For him, it was obvious, and sometimes we shy away from doing things that are obvious because we don’t consider them special. Don’t. Nobody else sees the world like you do.

A great rock song will always get people on the dance floor.

Have your butler put two coats of wax on your car.

The happy end isn’t that the McFlys are wealthier. They’re happy because they love each other, and they love what they do. And because they play tennis together. Mom and I will always be like Lorraine and George, behind the screen door, looking at you proudly.

Twenty years ago, I was on the same hockey team with your godfather, Devin. During one intermission, our teammates were teasing Devin. I don’t remember how it began but I remember it involved rubbing candlewax on his blades to make him go faster on the ice. When I spoke to him about it, to see how he was handling it, Devin just smiled and said it was “research” for his upcoming best-selling novel. Everything was research, a new experience to learn from. It’s all research, but only if your write the novel, too.

What I’m saying is that the Bobs got it right. “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has! Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one!” (Yes, I cheated, that’s from Part III, as you know).

You’re smarter, funnier, taller and at least as good-looking as me so if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.


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