Friday, May 26, 2017

If I could give another Graduation Speech

Today the local seniors had the opportunity to walk through the halls of the elementary school. What a charming way for the seniors to look back on their beginnings while the youngsters form impressions of poised high schoolers. It has me reflecting on graduation, that edge-of-the-diving-board moment before our youth jump into “real life.”

I’ve also been reflecting on the opportunities I’ve had to speak at my high school and college graduations and what I would say if I could do it all over again.

In both instances, I targeted my speech towards bolstering self-confidence, feeling that I was battling a mix of millennial apathy, small-town feelings of insignificance (in the case of my 27-student graduating class), and insecurity about the job market (in the case of my college graduation, which fell during the recession).

The theme of my high school speech was the Butterfly Effect, drawing parallels between a butterfly’s flap causing a hurricane across the world and our seemingly small decisions affecting the trajectory of our lives and those around us. The day of graduation, I had grabbed a make-shift butterfly net of pantyhose to catch butterflies to release at the end of my speech, envisioning a transcendental flourish to the cap off my speech. Unfortunately, biology was not my strongest subject, and I collected moths instead of butterflies, which bolted right to the lights for an ominous metaphor. (In hindsight, there might have been another message in the foiled plan: Don’t always trust your instincts. If you’re not willing to change course, you might end up zapped.)

My college graduation speech (begins at 1:07) was titled “Legendary,” and in an attempt to mitigate the pressures of the shitty economy and high internal expectations, I reminded my classmates that we have the advantages of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. In a final act of rebellion, I also inserted 1.) a dirty joke, 2.) a reference to GOD, and 3.) a plug for Pigeon River Brewing Company (which was then only a dream). “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing it small does not serve the world. Use your experiences to draw the strength to stand fearlessly on top of the giant and not back down from the legend that is within yourself.”

Those speeches have been special moments to bookend my education, and in both instances as much as I was aiming to motivate my classmates, I was also fighting against my own insecurity in my life’s path. Graduation can be inspiring, but it can also be terrifying, the idea that this is the moment in which you must choose the path for The. Rest. Of. Your. Life. …Shit.

If I could do it all over again, I’d have three messages to pass along to them (and myself):
1. Relax. Yes, this is a Big Moment. But there will be so many more Big Moments. If you miss the mark this time, you’ll have another chance. In the meantime, life is lived in between the Big Moments.

2. Stop obsessing about finding your “passion,” and start looking for your “calling.” Millennials get a bad rap for being narcissistic “snowflakes,” but much of this is brought on by well-meaning adults urging them to continuously look inward to “discover their passions.” What psychologists are now realizing is that a fulfilling career has less to do with the work being pleasurable and more to do with it being meaningful. Graduates need to shift their focus outside of themselves to recognize the needs of the world around them. In the words of Aristotle, “'Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”

3. Learn contentment through love. In the economy of a life-well-lived, the unit of measurement is not money, power, achievement, or fleeting pleasure. It's love. Love of friends and family. Love of life's beauty. Love of God. Go ahead and shoot for the moon, but if you miss, you're not going to land among the stars. (mostly because the stars are much farther away from the moon, and hopefully anyone who's completed over a decade of education would know that!) You will, however, land among your friends, family, and God. Make sure you cultivate those relationships well so it'll be a soft landing.

A couple weeks ago I bought four lilac shrubs. They’re just little guys right now, but I made the comment to Nate that since they're a later-blooming hybrid, they’ll be perfect by the time we host the kids’ graduation parties. Now that’s thinking ahead.
My kids haven’t even started school yet, and so far their future plans are to build an intergenerational compound of houses so we can all be together forever (oh, my heart!). But someday, they will be standing at the edge of the diving board, and they'll be able to read mom's ramblings from once-upon-a-time. Now that’s thinking ahead.

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