It is easily one of the greatest of all books ever written and it begins:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
”* * *
Does that sound familiar? It should. Since it was originally published in 1990, over 300,000 copies every year of Dr.
Seuss’ wonderful book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” have made it the preeminent No. 1 graduation present for kids from kindergarten to medical school and the opening lines have inspired millions of more kids who you and I happen to know are a whole lot older.
* * *“
You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.
”* * *
It’s no secret Theodor Seuss Geisel has been among my favorite writers all my life. I fell in love with him before I could even read and I can truthfully say I’ve read every word he has penned that I can find. Back in 1954 (when I was five years old) Life Magazine did a big story on illiteracy among school children, believing that kids’ books were too boring. (Yeah, they had the same problems back then, too.)
So a scholarly guy named William Spalding, who later was the head of Houghton Millfin publishers, came up with 384 words he felt first graders should know. Then he gave the list to our beloved Dr. Seuss and told him to write a book that contained only 250 of those words in a way “that a child will literally not be able to put it down.” A daunting task to be sure, but that, my friend, is exactly how the beloved book “The Cat in the Hat” came about.
* * *
“Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.
“And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.”
* * *
Dr. Seuss didn’t really want to be a writer – he just wanted to have fun. When Theodor Geisel was a freshman at Dartmouth he got caught drinking gin with some classmates and his punishment was that he was banned from all extracurricular activities at the college. Craftily, he very secretly wrote a humor column in the college newspaper and signed it “Dr. Seuss,” a name that was on 49 children’s books when he finally died in 1991, as well as Dartmouth’s Medical School and a gazillion plaques and awards.
His last book was “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”
* * *
“You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
“Except when you don't
Because, sometimes, you won't.
“I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
can happen to you.”
* * *
I need to let you in on why I am writing this story because it made me cry. That’s right, a guy named Bryan Martin from North Carolina reduced me to blubbering rubble the other day when I learned that 13 years ago he bought “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” for his daughter Brenna, whom hadn’t even started kindergarten yet.
But … wait … for the last 13 years he has very stealthily gotten every teacher, coach, principal and anyone else who played a pivotal part of molding Brenna from a kindergartner into a graduating senior to write about how proud they were of her on the pages in Dr. Seuss’ famous book.
From pigtails and missing teeth in kindergarten, to the fourth-grade play, the seventh-grade dance, the dissection of a frog, memorizing the Table of Common Elements, it’s all there, written in the handwriting of those responsible. It was 13 years in the making and no one – not one beaming soul – uttered a peep.
Are you with me here? Her Dad gave it to her at graduation and, sure, she’d read copies like it several times (like all kids have) but not until she opened the first page of the book that her misty-eyed dad had just presented her and she read the notes on the first page, then the next, and then the next, did she begin realize she had just been given the coolest, most wonderful, totally awesome gift of love a proud father could possibly give his daughter. The diploma? Who cares.
* * *
“You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.“So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.“And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)“KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!"(Excerpts are from the book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” published by Random House on Jan. 22, 1990. It is widely available at many book stores and on Internet sites. For reference, the ISBN number is 0-679-80527-3.)