Forever Young

Henry Heyer-Walsh, Washburn class of 2013, and Helen Heyer-Walsh, Washburn class of 2017. Credit: Photo by Jim Walsh

The best graduation speech of all time is “Forever Young,” written by one Bob Dylan, nee Robert Zimmerman, of the Hibbing High School class of 1959. I’ve written about it before, but I bring it up again at this tender moment because it’s become my go-to explainer for all the new feelings welling up in me these days, and because it so neatly and poetically says everything a parent wants to say to his or her kids as they blast off into the future.

My friend Betty Tisel, the great activist and mother, sang it at the Regina High School class of 1977 graduation at the request of my friend Kathleen “Kurse” Stockhaus, the great nurse and mother, and it rang in my ears all weekend, as South Minneapolis exploded in its annual spring ritual of suits and dresses and Rose Garden photo shoots, and our son Henry graduated from Washburn High School and our daughter Helen from Susan B. Anthony Middle School. For them: 

May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young

I took the picture of them that accompanies this column at the Minneapolis Convention Center, an hour or so after Henry walked across the stage and received his diploma and handshakes from his teachers and other wise elders, including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who warned the legendarily revolutionary Washburn class of 2013 to not be torpedoed by cynicism, or by being too cool or disinterested to take risks.

In the standing-room only crowd that night were plenty of old family friends and Washburn alumni, joyfully bearing witness to a rite of passage that so many have gone through, and to some degree continue to go through every spring. While the kids pondered their futures, their parents pondered theirs, too, and wondered what more they can do to make their kids feel some semblance of safety in a wiggly world.

May you grow up to be righteous

May you grow up to be true

May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young

The enormity of it all nailed me late Sunday night, so I returned to my meditation spot at the Rose Gardens and basically lost my daddy cool under the murky midnight stars, sobbing into my hands, tears pouring down my cheeks as hard as my daughter’s had after her last day of classes. The cumulative effect of all those endings and new beginnings, all that love and loss, undammed something in me, and I’m writing it down here to remember it, all of it.

The goodbye hugs. The great unknown. The yearbook confessions. The sight of a couple hundred orange and blue mortarboards and tassels flung skyward and levitating together for just a second, and for all time.

May your hands always be busy

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young

May you stay forever young 

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected] and