The other day, Little Miss Eighth-Grader was puzzling over the time-honored pre-graduation tradition of picking out a quotation to go with her yearbook photo.
For some reason, she waited until 10:30 on the night before it was due to begin her search across the entirety of the Internet for a nugget of wisdom that would be appropriately witty, forward-looking, optimistic, intelligent, and, above all, brief.
At one point, we had three computers simultaneously combing the recesses of the web for possibilities, and if you have to do it this way, you’re doing it wrong.
This initial realization led me to consider some other rules for the process and advice for students tackling this task, forthwith: First, a quotation that will adorn a yearbook for time eternity must be something more unique than the much-nibbled, low-hanging fruit that fills random “great quote” websites. No Vince Lombardi or Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein.
Second, it must be something meaningful to you, which is another reason it should not be plucked on a whim on a weeknight past bedtime. Accordingly, you should resist the urge to suddenly spout Friedrich Nietzsche when you haven’t read a word of his writing in your life.
On that note, third, the quotation must be something you are familiar with, so the best place to start isn’t Google but your favorite books and music. This doesn’t mean choosing a Justin Bieber song.
Finally, as I said earlier, it must strike an elusive balance that both reflects your personality while remaining thoughtful at the same time. If it’s fun, too, all the better.
After several minutes of web-surfing in which none of our suggestions stuck, the frustrated girl finally threw up her hands and scribbled down some dumb thing from the movie “The Princess Diaries”: “The brave may not live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all.”
Wait, what? I know you’re trying to be bold, but last time I checked, you weren’t asking to take a flying leap out of an airplane with a tuft of tissue paper tethered to your back.
I suggested something similar but less daredevil-y from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, but she was unimpressed. To her credit, she was right about two roads diverging in a wood. That path has been beaten down plenty already.
Next we told her to think of favorite movies. How about something from “Up”? How about “Just keep swimming?” Mom suggested. No go.
So we left the computer and walked around the house, where I have a few “Story People” wall sculptures by artist/writer Brian Andreas. “What about something like this?” Little Miss Eighth-Grader wondered.
Hey, if it were me, definitely. I could pick 10 quotes from the lyrical, quirky Andreas just for this purpose. Like this one: “They came to sit & dangle their feet off the edge of the world & after awhile they forgot everything but the good & true things they would do someday. ”
Or this: “I spent a long time trying to find my center until I looked closely at it one night & found it had wheels and moved easily in the slightest breeze. So now I spend less time sitting and more time sailing. ”
Or this: “Remember to use positive affirmations. I am not a dork is not one of them.” I like that one. It’s good advice.
We continued reading through some of his other writing and stumbled upon one that reminded me of something from “Alice in Wonderland.” Would it meet the requirements? It was concise, wise and with just the right touch of humor — check. Lewis Carroll is not an overly quoted writer — check. And the girl performed in the play last year, so she’s read and likes his work — check.
Just before heading off to bed, she put pencil to paper and chose this line, a tidbit of guidance from the King of Hearts:
“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Well said. Would that we all approach the future with such unadorned simplicity.