This upcoming week, my husband is scheduled to be the graduation speaker at his high school alma mater. Even though he makes his living talking to millions of people, he actually hates speaking in public.
Because of that, he’s not particularly happy that I encouraged him to go outside of his comfort zone. He thinks I don’t understand his apprehension because I actually enjoy public speaking.
What he doesn’t understand is that I’m simply jealous of the opportunity, and I’m living vicariously through him.
It’s not the spotlight or the attention that make me wish I could stand in his shoes. It’s the privilege of encouraging young people as they take that final step out of childhood and into adulthood.
Ironically, I don’t even remember who spoke at my high school graduation other than it was a white, male politician. Despite that, I still believe that the right words can make a big difference.
If I didn’t, I wouldn’t write.
But since I do write, I’m going to use this space to share my own words with the Class of 2013. What follows are highlights of the commencement speech I’ll never give:
1. As you get older, you will discover that high school wasn’t just a finite period of your life. It was a series of good and bad relationships and events that served as a platform from which you chose to stand still, dive or climb. My advice is to climb. Take the stairs. Rise above the need to be defined by others or the simple accomplishments of youth and discover who you really are. You’ll probably surprise yourself and all the people with whom you once shared the platform.
2. Don’t ever believe that your greatest moments are behind you. There are always opportunities to create more great moments, but they require moving on and doing something different. Many people are uncomfortable with change and will want to force the status quo on you. Don’t let them.
3. Never apologize for your opinions. Ever. Opinions aren’t facts, so you can never be wrong, and you can always change them as circumstances change. But opinions are valuable because they define the essence of who you are. Like any other valuable possession, people will try to take them from you by any means necessary. Don’t ever let them use religion or profits or cultural norms to buy your silence.
4. You’ve probably been told all of your life not to worry about what other people think about you, and in most circumstances, that’s true. But you should worry about what “the future you” will think about you. You are the only person who has to live with you your entire life. You can walk away from other people, but you will still be with yourself. Make sure you are a good companion. Treat yourself with the respect, care and love needed in any long-term relationship.
5. Before you get out of bed each day, think about the calendar. The day you are about to begin is absolutely unique, and in a few short hours it will simply be another day in history. Make sure that day counts in your own life history. Despite the obstacles you may be facing or the hurt you may be feeling, make sure you do something that makes that day memorable and meaningful. If you are stuck in a routine, break it just a little. Eat something unusual. Read something new. Talk to a stranger. Practice a random act of kindness. Your ultimate goal in life is to make every day count, but that sometimes requires a bit of work. Do the work anyway.
If someone were to ask me the absolutely best thing about getting older, I wouldn’t even hesitate to answer that I actually expect less of myself even though I am capable of accomplishing more than I ever have. But ask me the worst thing about getting older?
Once I wade through all the usual complaints about my body not being what it used to be or that I don’t even know what cool is (according to my nine-year old daughter), I can say, without a doubt, it’s the expectation that as I age, I am expected to become wise. And with wisdom comes the ability to give great advice.
Not that I am incapable of giving advice. I give it every day… whether people want to hear it or not. But as is true with so many things, I can dish it out much better than I can take it.
I HATE getting advice. I took a dislike to it as a child, and my opinion hasn’t changed much since then. In other words, if someone suggests I go left, I often go right just to prove I’m not stupid or incapable of making my own decisions.
Unfortunately, in most cases, I really should have gone left. Eventually, I figure that out. But that doesn’t happen without first getting a lot of bumps, bruises and even major injuries. Needless to say I have a lot of scars… and even a few wounds that still need to completely heal.
But, here’s the thing. Those scars are great reminders of the mistakes I’ve made. And I do give myself credit for being someone who learns from her mistakes. And yes, I’ve learned a lot. But there are still a lot of things I’d like to know.
So instead of getting advice, what I really want is answers:
- I want to know why people who have money are given more power and attention than people who care for and teach our children or people who help those who are disadvantaged.
- I want to know why some parents treat their children as extensions of themselves and insist on rubbing all their accomplishments in your face while blaming others for their child’s mistakes.
- I want to know why some people insist they have a right to own dogs, but then keep them tied up all day and don’t give them the love and attention they need.
- I want to know why some people call themselves Christians , but then spend so much time and energy judging others.
- I want to know why some people think that tearing others down serves to build themselves up.
- And most of all? I want to know why people believe their way of thinking or doing things is THE way. Why don’t they recognize that each of us is different, and, because of that, there is no right way. We all have different needs, wants and desires.
And my personal desire? As I get older, I just want genuine answers to these questions.