To the graduates:
If you’ve made it this far, you’re well on your way somewhere, passed Life 101, but let me roast you a little. Your ceremonial caps and tassels – oh, the gold ones, signature of hard work and over-achievement – make our collective hearts flutter with joy. Your stories are extraordinary, inspirational.
The homeless young man in Jacksonville who is valedictorian. A New York teen dubbed “ the Lebron James of academia” accepted to all eight Ivy League colleges. The undocumented immigrant student who fought Tallahassee and is now eligible for in-state tuition.
It’s the happy season.
Getting to the finish line, regardless of the color of your tassel, is no small feat. Party on, you’ve earned the celebration.
Too quickly, though, you might be in a rush to move on to the next thing – I was when I was in your shoes, flying off to freedom in my friend’s white Camaro along Route US 27 to the University of Florida. I was when I married, finished my journalism course work with a baby in my arms, and fled campus to a job in Miami.
Still am in a rush.
Bad and good habits become a way of living.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” author Annie Dillard reminds us in her wise book, The Writing Life.
So pause and linger for a bit.
Thank loved ones, mentors, and teachers. Bless your naysayers, too, for they were also a vital component of the energy that kept you driven and focused.
The merit is all yours, but this moment is theirs, too.
Achievement is a high, but gratitude is what keeps you healthy. The people who brought you to this point will remain your rock – your roots even as you fly – and you will always need them, and they need you.
I know, I know you’re the almighty Millennials, optimistic and global-minded, and that you’re well-aware of the state of the world you’re about to enter, but indulge me and let me give you some advice, courtesy of my gray hairs.
Now that you’ve got no parental rules to follow, be mindful of what you feed your soul. Too many people out there are vying for it.
In school, you followed a learning path set for you. It’s a free for all now. Consume wisely and widely. Keep an open mind, but reserve a healthy skepticism for people high on rhetoric and short on facts.
Learning never ends, but as it happens with your eating habits, you become what you consume. If you’re only seeking affirmation and confirmation of what you believe, it’s time to expand your world.
When you’re feeling defeated, look inward and ahead, not sideways – and focus your energy on finding your path.
If you must look around and survey the lives of others, do it to learn, to rejoice, and celebrate, not to envy or lust over their piece of the pie. That will only paralyze you.
Lastly, there’s work.
My favorite T-shirt has a tiny patch sewn on the bottom left-hand corner that says: “Do what you like. Like what you do.”
Words to dream by, but no mantra.
You won’t always like what you have to do – but it can be edifying, a route, like calculus.
Congratulations, Class of 2014, you’ve made it.
Party on wisely, languidly.
You want to stick around for the rest of your life. This is only the beginning.