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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some memorable advice in commencement speech

By Dick Hirsch
As they do every year, commencement speakers across the land again this season strode to the podiums, where they attempted to impart some succinct wisdom to the graduates, while at the same time trying to avoid boring the audience of parents and families.
That is no easy task. The graduates are all preoccupied, so excited by the event itself and the anticipation of the parties that will follow, that few will ever remember what was said by any of the speakers. Even patient listeners up in the gallery often have trouble finding any memorable advice. I’ve tried and failed on many occasions, but this year it was different. Here is the notable comment I heard:
“You are all now high school graduates,” the speaker declared, “and that now will soon qualify you to vote, pay taxes and do your own laundry.”
I doubt that was an original line, but it yielded an appreciative response from the audience. It was one of the high points for me because I wish someone had made that observation at my commencement. As I sat there in cap and gown, I was ill-prepared to handle any of those duties, especially the laundry.
Of course, times were simpler then. Perhaps today’s graduates are more advanced, but as I embarked upon life’s journey as a supposed adult, I knew little of the mysteries of doing laundry. I doubt whether my friends knew much more. Somehow there always seemed to be a supply of clean socks and underwear in the dresser drawers.
And as I adjusted to the routine of the college campus, laundry was the least of my concerns. I was so worried about coping with certain daunting academic requirements, notably Differential Calculus and Survey of Botany & Biology, that I never gave much thought to housekeeping matters like laundry.
That gap in my knowledge soon resulted in a serious personal crisis. After familiarizing myself with the operation of a nearby laundromat, I became a regular customer. It seemed simple enough: place the clothes and soap inside, shut the door, and then turn the dial and push the button. Everything went smoothly for a few weeks and I assumed I was a laundry expert. Then I decided my recently acquired sweatshirt needed to be washed.
It was a maroon garment. I tossed it in with the underwear, pushed the button and left. One of the services provided by the woman in charge was removing clothes from the washers, then drying and folding them. When I returned to pick up my clothes. I was shocked to find that I now had a matched set of pink underwear. As I looked at my laundry I was on the verge of hysteria.
“What happened?” I asked. She pointed to the sweatshirt. “The color ran into the white,” she said. “Never mix darks with lights.” She tried to calm me, saying that regular future washings would eventually return the clothes to their original state. That prediction proved to be inaccurate.
Need I report that it does nothing to elevate a person’s reputation among fellow freshmen to be seen around the locker room or the dorm in pink shorts and T-shirts? It gave me yet another reason to try to avoid those mandatory gym classes.
The pink skivvies were discarded years ago, but the memory lingers, and that commencement speech brought the whole laundry episode once again into focus.
The fact of the matter is this: I was scarred by that early negative experience in doing my own laundry, and I have attempted over the years to demonstrate that, under controlled conditions, lights and darks can be washed together. I would never suggest tossing in a maroon or other deep colored item with whites, unless---and this part is important---unless they have had many previous washings and the dyes have become less likely to migrate to the whites. Given the opportunity to do laundry over the years, I have perfected the treatment of what I call the miscellaneous load.
It is an approach that conservationists should embrace since it saves soap, water and time. Despite those benefits, the miscellaneous load theory has been adopted by only a small percentage of launderers. It has become a matter of gender, with women, who have seized control of the laundry operation in most domestic jurisdictions, totally rejecting the concept and insisting upon separate but equal treatment. That has created occasional conflicts that often require negotiation and resolution. That might be a topic for a future commencement address.



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