Dear Graduates from the Class of 2015,
In my area of the United States, this weekend is high school graduation. Just like you, many students are celebrating the conclusion of one era of their lives, preparing to embark on the journey to adulthood. My friends and I have shared memories from our high school graduation on social media – something not even imagined when we graduated from high school – and we have had fun commenting about experiences with commencement.
I almost didn’t participate in commencement with my class, but not because I was in danger academically. I spent my last year of high school as an exchange student in Australia, so I had a different experience at graduation than most of my peers. I had no desire to return home for the graduation ceremonies. My student visa did not expire until July, but my parents asked me to come home in June to graduate. My family and friends wanted me to be there. However, graduation meant nothing to me. In my head, I had already moved on. I had been living on my own in a foreign country for almost a year, and had no desire to participate in a ceremony celebrating completion of something I had already left behind.
In the end, I did return home in time to graduate with the other sixty four members of my high school class. I don’t regret being there for their celebration, but I do regret depriving myself of an extra month in Australia. It is one of the few regrets I have from the past twenty five years.
Now you are standing where I stood twenty five years ago. You probably think you have a plan. You imagine you know what will happen next. You have selected a college or university, or maybe you are going to leave for boot camp in a few weeks. Perhaps you have a job and you are ready to begin working towards a career. Or, maybe you’re afraid because you don’t have it all figured out yet.
When I was your age, I thought I had it figured out. I knew where I was going to college. I knew what I would study. I had a picture of what my dream job looked like. I was pretty sure I knew what I wanted life to be like when I “grew up.”
The world considers me a “grown up.” And life is nothing like what I thought it would be.
Looking back, the only part of the plan I envisioned to be successfully executed was college. I knew I was going to attend The College of Saint Rose, and I did. But that special education major which was to help prepare me for graduate school where I would study music therapy? Yeah – I knew within a week of classes it wasn’t for me. That dream job working with children with disabilities as a music therapist? It morphed into an amazing job working as a speech-language pathologist with geriatric nursing home residents. Who knew I would love “the old folks” so much, and find it rewarding to spend my time improving their quality of life? And that career as a speech-language pathologist? I never imagined I would want to leave it and begin one new career in my thirties, and then another new one just before turning forty.
Life doesn’t follow a plan. It is messy. It is full of surprises, opportunities disguised as difficulties, and second chances.
Life is not fair. It just is. It’s how you cope that matters.
You have so many choices as you start the next part of your journey. You will receive advice from adults, like me. Adults who are full of optimism for you, who remember what it was like to stand in cap and gown, ready to change the world, a little nervous about the future. I encourage you to listen to the advice, and store it in your brain for future use. Trust me – right now you are not able to predict when those words of wisdom will apply to you, but they will.
I did not receive much advice at graduation, but I received many words of wisdom the prior year before I went to Australia. The night before I left, I received the best advice from a dear family friend. It is advice which has guided me for twenty five years, and has helped me live without many regrets.
Say yes to life. Do it all. You never know if you’ll get another chance.
That’s it – say yes to life.
Be engaged. Get involved. Don’t miss an opportunity to pay a compliment. Hug your loved ones. Tell and show your friends how much they matter to you. Take a stand for those who need an ally. Volunteer for a cause you believe in. Say yes to life.
Graduates- the world needs your intelligence, your passion and your creativity. We are trusting you to share your talents and your treasure to improve your communities. We are hopeful you will make a difference in the lives of those around you. We are confident you will succeed.