I’m of course writing this for my High School’s graduating class, to the students I’ve known and taught for the previous three years. However I share it so as to not only broadly speak to some of the misconceptions and stereotypes which exist regarding this generation, but to also possibly strike a chord with other students who are similarly feeling anxious regarding entering the next chapter of their lives.
Class of 2016,
How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?
~ Dr. Seuss
Adulthood, College, Major, Career, words which up until recently have had little personal meaning to each of you, words that become more relevant with each passing day, and undoubtedly cause anxiety in the process.
However rest assured of this, being “ready for life” is not necessarily defined by a number, be it an age or grade, just as your future will not be solely defined by the college or major or job you choose.
Rather, consider that “life” has challenged you long before society has called you an adult, it has thrown “adult problems” your way, putting strain on your mind and heart in a way that only a “seasoned adult” should be able to describe. The battles you have already fought, the obstacles you’ve already overcome, the personal and family issues you’ve endured--persevering through turmoil, rising above domestic issues which were out of your control, being a rock to a sibling, suffering through losses of loved ones, bravely addressing mental or physical pain, all these things and countless others, have long contributed more to your growth than any birthday or symbolic event ever could.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this, despite what your fears and doubts may tell you, your previous chapters, the highs, the lows, the laughs, the tears, they have prepared you for this next chapter, and more than ever you are in possession of the pen that will tell the story.
But where will you go to school? What will you major in? Where will you work? I’ve heard and seen your anxieties, we’ve discussed them in class, and understand you thinking such choices will serve as springboards-----to either happiness and success, or irreversible misery.
Take a deep breath and realize this: there are miserable students at Harvard, unfulfilled people with Doctorates, unsatisfied hungers and voids within those who from afar are where society says they should be. Who you become, what you “accomplish”, what you remember and cherish in life, will not be largely determined by the information on your diploma, but rather by what you choose to give and take---effort, chances, help, love, kindness---during each stop in your journey throughout college and life.
Furthermore, do not let society define success or happiness for you. You can’t wear or drive the impact you’ve made on people, your house will never scream “this owner opened his heart to all”, there’s no line on your paycheck, no bonus for “hearts touched and memories made”, but remember, “the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself”.
For to ignore the superficial barriers that society has put between us, to have made the lives of others better, not just our loved ones, but strangers, with a hand, a shoulder, an ear, a word of encouragement, to light and fan their flames, to encourage their dreams and help them recognize their beauty, that is ultimately how one truly feels successful, how one reaches “happiness”.
And make sure you are doing the same for yourself:
“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.” Conversely do not allow anybody to place you into a box, to tell you what someone "like you" should and shouldn't do. Your gender, your race, your background, these things do not dictate what interests you, what you see in your dreams, your heart does, so listen to it and not the naysayers.
To that point, you collectively represent a remarkable diversity of personalities, opinions, talents, backgrounds, and most importantly, futures--and I feel lucky to have not only met and taught, but learned from each and every one of you. The stories you’ve shared, the challenges you’ve overcome, the jokes you’ve made and the laughs we’ve had, the questions you’ve asked, the help you’ve given, the intellectual curiosity and social awareness you’ve displayed, all of it and so much more has been inspiring and impactful, it’s made a difference, it’s made my “job” and my life better---Thank you.
As all of you know from experience, life of course is not easy, there will be times when school, and your career, and family, and love and loss will you have you down, but while seemingly cliche, Dory had it right---you must just keep swimming. Life often happens when things do not go as planned, when comfort zones are ignored, fears overcome, sight of the shore lost.
And remember--as it says in the back of my classroom--the goal is never to be better than anybody …….except the person you were yesterday.
“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have a new one.” #LoveMoreFearLess #LookOutsideYourComfortZone
PS--In college, as in life, it’s not about the questions you can answer, but the ones you’re inspired to ask. #staywoke