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.