“Hats off to yesterday; coats off to tomorrow.” That’s the credo of a small newspaper whose weekly reminder at the top of page one urges focus on what is yet to be rather than on what already is done.

It’s particularly meaningful in the season when young Americans are crossing stages by the millions, “commencing” toward whatever comes next. Graduates of schools and colleges across the land will take celebratory deep breaths about what has been accomplished.

Parents, other relatives and friends will exhale, realizing that for the graduates, many rungs remain on the ladder of life…

Pomp will be equaled only by circumstance at these proud events. Principals, superintendents, presidents and other brass involved in the ceremonies will have similar prayers.

Quite simply, they want reasonable decorum to prevail, and nothing “big” to go wrong.

Sometimes their prayers don’t reach the ceiling…

As a former university administrator and now well into my fifth decade as a public speaker, I’ve participated in several hundred high school and collegiate commencement exercises.

Perhaps the biggest gaffe occurred in the ceremony immediately following my retirement from the presidency.

More than 3,000 persons crammed into Brownwood Coliseum for Howard Payne University graduation exercises. They saw a calamity developing before those of us on the platform knew what was coming down…

The crowd let out a collective gasp as the curtain backdrop, maybe 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall, blew forward, covering most of the platform guests.

Somehow, simultaneous opening of both the front and rear doors of the coliseum created a draft that “whooshed” forward. For a few seconds, we were covered in curtains.

No one was hurt, and as we dug out of the mess of fabric, I whispered to my successor, “This never happened when I was president.”

The event went on without serious incident.

I have no doubt but that the video capture of this incident would have made TV’s funniest videos, but somehow, the video tape was placed under lock and key. Too bad. The university could have used the first-place money. (Perhaps revisiting this incident will cause officials in charge of graduation ceremonies to make sure everything is nailed down.)

Many’s the time I’ve joked about Howard Payne being the knowledge center of the world. “With freshmen bringing so much in, and with seniors taking so little out, it is stacking up on our campus.”

As we think of chapter openings and closings at this time of year, it is noted that it is likewise the time for distribution of gold watches to educational employees who have fought the good fight and finished the race.

That was the case a few nights back when faculty and staff retirees of Lubbock Independent School District received back-pats. Gold watches went to 66 recipients whose combined service totals 1,389 years. (That’s an average of more than 21 years each in a district where turnover is low, and where bond issues have never been defeated.)

Superintendent Wayne Havens cocked his head sideways when longtime principal Tom Brown stepped forward. “Haven’t we already sent you out to pasture?” he asked…

Brown admitted that he indeed already had been so honored.

“But my watch broke, and I just wanted to see if I can get the warranty!” he joked.

Truth to tell, he was standing in for a principal who was unable to attend the dinner, and Brown saw no reason to leave a big steak uneaten…

Let us offer prayers for both graduates — and retirees — that they will be equal to whatever comes next. Pray, too, for students who fail to graduate.

One prospective graduate many years ago learned how unfair life can be. Lacking just one elective credit for high school graduation, he figured he’d blow off basket-weaving, his final class.

He was immediately worried upon learning that his 10 classmates were Cherokee Indians. And, yes, the teacher graded on the curve….

May all lives be strengthened by strong faith and much resolve.

I heard of such a man the other day. Despite his illness calling for chemotherapy, he forges on.

“I’ve developed a friendship with my therapist,” he said. “I call her ‘Chemo-sabi.’”

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.