To My Graduating Students*
*and to my students who graduated last year – I’m sorry I didn’t think to do this for you then, so now everybody’s included in this commencement address.
First: I am so proud of you.
Second: I don’t know where this blog post is going, so just hang out for a couple of minutes. It might meander like our discussions on Of Mice and Men or The Cask of Amontillado.
Whether you go to a four-year college, a junior college, a technical school, or no school at all, you will be making choices every single day. Sometimes these choices won’t be important, like, “Do I ask the dude making my sandwich to put mayo on both sides, or just one?” or “Do I straighten my hair today or let it go curly?” or “Do I call my girlfriend now or wait until after I finish this episode of [whatever show is popular at the moment]?”
Sometimes the choices will be very important, like, “Do I blow off writing this paper and just copy it from the internet?” [If you were truly a student of mine, this answer would be, "No, I will write this paper and learn while I'm doing it!"] Other important choices might be, “Do I get into the car with this dude I just met at the club?” or “Do I sample the mystery substance everyone seems to be having so much fun with at the party, or do I amuse myself taking photos of them to post on Facebook later, and make sure none of them die from whatever side effects the mystery substance has?”
The point is: the future is filled with choices, and you are responsible for making the choices. It might be overwhelming, as it often was to me in college. The sheer mountain of choices scared the crap out of me. And sometimes you’re going to shine, and other times you’re going to fail. You will fail. It will happen. (I think J. K. Rowling covered this point in her address to Harvard graduates in 2008. Click here to read that.)
Failing can bring you to surprising new places. It can be an opportunity. I’m not saying it doesn’t suck, because it does. But take some responsibility for it. You get to make the choices, from here until forever.
I hope you choose:
- to not get into the car with strange men
- to make wise choices about sex
- to pass on the drugs but still have fun with your friends
- to work your asses off on school work. You’re choosing, paying to be in school now. No one’s making you. Work for your dreams.
- to always be kind and gentle with every single person you meet. Even if they cut you off in traffic or steal your umbrella or cheat on you or sit on your iPhone and crush it into a million bits
- to surround yourselves with people who make you smile
- to remember your home. Your home. Full of people who care about you and are cheering for you. This is where you come from, and even if it might seem like a small nothing town after you’ve moved away to Way Cool City Full of Beautiful People, this is your home, and we love you
- to write letters and postcards – not only emails and texts – to your friends and family
- to reward yourself with a trip to the beach or a hike or somewhere outdoors when the daily grind gets to be too much
- to vote for leaders you believe in
- to form relationships with surprising and interesting people
- to put your money on what’s really important. Think about where you want your life to go; spend accordingly
- to fall in love
- to let people go when it is time (and to trust your instincts of when that time is right)
- to avoid worrying about what other people might think of your path in life. It’s yours; own it and be happy. If you can’t be happy, change it by making new choices
- to learn and practice the art of making conversation with adults. You are an adult now. Talk to your professors, your bosses, and other adults
- to be the change you wish to see in the world (Mahatma Gandhi)
I love you all. If you think I’ve forgotten about you for one day since I quit teaching to raise Z, you’re wrong. I taught you English, but you taught me so much more. I delight in memories of being your teacher. I delight in the choices you make, especially when those choices are conscious, purposeful, and full of intent to make your lives, and the world, delightful, fanciful, creative, kind, gentle, and peaceful.
Thank you for being who you are. Never stop.