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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

A final lesson from the professor of history

Retiring SWCC history instructor Randy Hughes.
Retiring SWCC history instructor Randy Hughes.

Randy Hughes gave one final lesson Friday night to 100 or so Southwestern Community College graduates.

I’m not sure if the microphone wasn’t right in front of him the whole time, or the sound system wasn’t quite working right, because some folks I talked to afterward couldn’t hear everything he said. That’s too bad, because the message from the retiring SWCC history instructor was both brilliant and humorous — just like his classroom.

The first thing he wanted the graduates to realize was to not take the night’s events too lightly.

“This means something,” he told them. “It’s not like the certificates you get at summer camp.”

He said there would be a test on his lesson Friday night. Their life would be the test. How would they use their new accumulation of knowledge?

“The theme of this speech is how to have a happy, stress-free life,” he said. “Anyone interested?”

The first part of his lesson came from the Greek philosopher Epicurus. It touched on the joy of friendships in your life.

“Surround yourself with people you like,” he said. “Don’t hang out with jerks. If you’re looking for happiness and contentment, be with friends who are really your friends.”

The second stage of his lesson focused on their career ambitions. Happiness can be found in your work, he said. It doesn’t have to be something you find separately, when you’re off duty.

“I’ve never had a job,” he explained. “I’ve done what I love for 47 years! What I would imagine as doing for fun — getting people together to talk about history — they provide for me here. They give me a room, they bring me people and they even pay me. Not as much as I’m worth, of course. (Giggles ripple through the crowd.) But who really gets paid what they’re worth?

“If you get a job you don’t like, find another job,” Hughes advised. “You spend too much time at your job, in your career, at your place of employment, to have something you hate to do.”

Hughes went on to explain the enthusiasm he still had for his work as an instructor at SWCC after 11 years, and 36 years at Creston High School.

“I literally couldn’t wait to get here each morning,” he said. “I was here between 6 and 6:30 most mornings. I just wanted to get to school, get the lessons ready, meet people at the doorway. I love this place and I love what I do. That’s out there for you. Something is right for you. You might have to look for awhile to find it. But, when you find it, you’ll know it.”

That being said, he cautioned that no place of employment is Utopia all day, every day.

“Even at Southwestern, there are times when there is a spirit-waning, soul-sucking activity,” he said. “Here, we called them faculty meetings. (Bigger roar of laughter.) Even at those times, something fun, something interesting or unusual would happen from time to time.”

As I saw some in the crowd scrolling their cellular telephones during the speech, heads popped up to attention when Hughes said, “I HATE CELL PHONES.”

The crux of that portion of the message was to live life, don’t be someone who just trolls other people’s lives on a tiny screen showing a social media site.

“When you do that, your world is about this big,” he said, holding his fingers about 4 inches apart. “There’s a whole world going on around you. Be a part of the world. Make it real, be alive, be alert.”

An example, he noted, was an upcoming event this summer. On Aug. 21, a total eclipse of the sun will be visible from the Midwest. Portions of Nebraska will offer the best view.

“You can be a part of that, and see something you may never have the chance to see again,” he said. “Take that chance. LIVE! Don’t let life slip past.”

A longtime New York Yankees fan, Hughes referred to a former Yankee player in making his fourth point in the message on how to live a contented life.

“Mickey Rivers played for the Yankees in the late 1970s and he came up with something so perfect,” Hughes said. “He said, don’t worry about the things you got control over. You got control over it. And, don’t worry about the things you don’t have control over. You can’t control them anyway.”

Hughes paused to let that sink in, then boiled down the philosophy more succinctly.

“If you got control over it, take care of it,” he said. “If you don’t have control over it, don’t worry about it. For example, you’ve got no control over how long I’m going to talk. I’ve got no control over when you’re listening or not. I can control how long I talk, so I’ll take care of that. You’ve got control over whether you’re listening or not, so you can take care of that. I’ve got no control over that!”

He closed by reciting verses from a Grassroots song, “Let’s Live for Today.”

To truly capture a happy, stress-free life means to focus only on what one can control — that particular moment.

“When I think of all the worries,

People seem to find,

And how they’re in a hurry,

To complicate their minds,

By chasing after money,

And dreams that can’t come true,

I’m glad that we are different,

We’ve better things to do.

Live for today,

And don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow,

Hey, live for today.”


Contact the writer:

Twitter – @larrypeterson

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