Advice to grads: Go forth and create a masterpiece
Having recently attended the college graduation of our youngest child, I could not stop thinking about what I might say if given the opportunity to offer the commencement address. Five thoughts come to mind:
Continue to learn and teach: At the moment you were born — whether conscience of it or not — all of you have been students. All of you were constantly learning from others, patterning and comparing yourselves to the world around you.
At the same time, you have always been teachers. Beginning with infancy, you taught your parents and family about the preciousness of life and the awe-inspiring responsibility of raising a child simply by your being born. You’ve taught them about themselves, as they observed and raised you.
As you leave the womb that is the college environment, all of you become teachers. If not literal credentialed teachers, figuratively so. You are now college graduates. Teach and share what you’ve learned over the past four years. Don’t gloat over your degree or your school’s namesake.
Develop and maintain a humble soul: All of you feel a great sense of accomplishment; you’ve worked hard. But it’s expected that you worked hard and made sacrifices while in college. College is not summer camp. If anything, being in college is a supreme gift. Metaphorically, all of you stand on the shoulders of the generations that have come before you. All of you have benefited from those who built and maintained your school.
By now you should also know some students wishing to attend particular schools have been turned down for inexplicable reasons. Some students get accepted for reasons equally inexplicable.
A humble soul knows and a prudent mind understands that some things in life come about due to luck or randomness. Even if you worked diligently through grade school and did well on college entrance exams and got accepted to the school of your choice, you’re lucky to have had other things given to you allowing you to succeed. So, keep a humble perspective about what you’ve accomplished. You have been given at least as much.
Include God/godliness in your life: College is a secular institution — it is not a seminary where you’d expect to grapple with such ideas. But with a notion of the transcendent, and the discipline of healthy religion, you will live a more balanced and enriched life. You will handle failures better and you will understand and appreciate success more. With all the questions you posed while in college, ponder this: The most important question one can possibly ask is whether God exists.
Don’t be fearful: Go out and take some risks. There is an obsession in our day with health and safety. You’ve been told to fear changes in the environment, certain types of food, strangers, and the economy to name a few. Enough! Go live. Some parents think their duty is to raise children. That’s only partially correct. The duty of parents is to raise adults. So, become adults.
Arguably, you are at a point in your life where you are the most resilient. Take some chances — don’t be fearful. Learn how to fail and you’ll learn how to succeed. A successful person has failed many more times than one deemed a failure. If not now, when?
Enjoy the journey: Life goes fast. Notice I said life goes fast, not time. Time is a human convention. We’ve invented and formatted time to help us function and “navigate” through life. There is no such thing as time, per se. A waste of time is, more emphatically, a waste of life.
Don’t think of life only in terms of goals to be met, quotas to be filled and appointments to be kept. In your haste to get a job, choose a spouse, pay off a debt (including student loans), take a breath and reorient yourself; savor the journey as much as, if not more than, the goals you set out to achieve.
One last thought: Sadly, for many of you, college will be the high point of your life — I sincerely hope it is not. Like the Bible’s portrayal of the Seraphs wielding fiery batons at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, preventing man and woman from ever returning, you too can never return to your undergraduate days. Don’t fret; that’s a good thing.
The biblical depiction is an allegorical way of saying, “Get going — don’t even think of coming back.” And so it is with all of you — it’s now time to move on, to get going.
Contrary to popular opinion, which holds college life is not indicative of the real world, every occurrence we encounter is real. Life, wherever and however lived, is not an illusion. But college is only a few years in a lifetime of accumulated experiences, ongoing challenges and adventures. So, go out and continue to learn and teach; develop a humble soul; include God; don’t be fearful; enjoy the journey, and in the process, make your life a masterpiece.