Congratulations class of 2017! You’ve come a long way. Guess what? You’ve got a long way left to go. Your next journey is adulthood and it is going to challenge everything you’ve learned and everything you think you know. Here are just a few pieces of advice to help you navigate the strange new waters that you are about to be thrown into.
You are graduating at a time when the country is polarized both socially and politically. The loudest voices you will hear will often be the most extreme. As easy and tempting as it may be to get pulled too far to the left or right on any issue, realize that the truth and the whole story tend to live somewhere in the middle ground.
NEVER STOP LEARNING
Your cap, gown, and diploma mean you have finished school. They do not mean you have finished learning. You will find very shortly that you are far from finished with learning. Life has many more lessons to teach you. You will learn from others, you will learn from circumstance, and you will learn from discovery. Don’t ever think you have it all figured out and become set in your ways. No one living is a finished product.
THERE WILL BE GOOD TIMES AHEAD
It may seem like getting your diploma is your greatest triumph. Perhaps it is to date, but far better times are coming. Some of you will get married, some of you will have children, some of you will build amazing careers, and some of you may even change the world. When you do, you will find that where you are today was just a small step in an incredible journey. Enjoy all of life’s highs to the fullest.
BAD TIMES ARE ALSO COMING
No one looks in the mirror on gaduation day and says, “I want a life filled with struggle and hardship,” but whether you want them or not, the bad times are coming. This is where your character is shaped. You will receive bad news from a doctor or a loved one, you will experience pain and loss, and you will feel the stings of betrayal, regret, and heartbreak. You will make plans and your plans will fall through. Be prepared for good times and bad. Learn from both. Don’t let the good times make you cocky and don’t let the bad times bring you down. It’s OK to experience hardship and it is OK to question everything you know. You will learn over time to appreciate life’s valleys just as much as its peaks.
LAUGH. A LOT.
If you’re going to laugh about it “one of these days,” go ahead and start laughing about it now. It’s a cliche’, but laughter truly is the best medicine. If you can laugh about it, you can overcome it. Humor can ease pain, declaw hostility, and bring sunlight to dark days.
You’ve spent the last 18 years of your life under someone else’s authority. First, you learned to listen to and obey your parents, then you learned to listen to and obey your teachers. As an adult, you will still be subject to authority and, while it’s true you should show proper respect for those in authority, you need to know that it is important and acceptable to question authority. The most successful minds in business and government are those who say, “Why do we do this?” or “Is there a better way?” If you want to dance, fly, thrive, or whatever other verb people tell you to do after you graduate, you have to learn to both respect and question authority.
PICK YOUR BATTLES
You will have hot-botton issues and there will be hills that you are willing to die on. If you lack this kind of conviction, you’re probably doing something wrong. But, every hill can’t be worth dying on and every issue is not a cause for deep offense. Save anger and argument for when it is truly important. Otherwise, you’ll be like the boy who cried wolf, and people won’t take your outrage seriously.
LEARN TO DISAGREE WITHOUT DISGUST
As I mentioned before, you are graduating in a highly polarizing time. When you disagree with a person or an idea, learn to do so without disgust or contempt. People come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives than you. Their past, like yours, has shaped their worldview. Realize that you could be wrong, or that maybe the issue is a matter of preference and sometimes there isn’t a hard right or wrong.
TREAT OTHERS WITH DIGNITY
Along those same lines, even if you have trouble understanding someone else or you don’t agree with their choices, always treat others with dignity. Never strip another person of their humanity, even if it is only in your mind. When you do that, you become less human.
Sometimes what you know isn’t as important as how you come across. People will always believe a confident person who lacks wisdom over a wise person who lacks confidence. I know you’re tired of being told to “believe in yourself,” but there is a reason people are telling you this over and over and over again. Confidence is a kingmaker and it can make a huge difference in who you are, who you marry, and who you will ultimately become.
BUT DON’T BE TOO SURE OF YOURSELF
Confidence only works if you are actually able to back it up. Nothing will derail you more than being over-confident and misstepping because of it. Ask other people for their honest opinion of your skills and make sure you know what you are and aren’t capable of to the best of your abilities. You will not be able to perform like Mozart if you’ve never had a single lesson.
MISTAKES ARE HOW YOU LEARN
It’s easy to be afraid of failure, but the sooner you learn to embrace it and learn from it, the better off you’ll be. You will learn more lessons from a single mistake than from a dozen triumphs. Your mistakes sharpen your skills and shape your character. They are a necessary part of the person you become and in the long run, you will be thankful for the opportunity to fail.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE “WHY”
Always remember the reason you do something, otherwise you will lose sight of who you want to be. Wealth for the sake of wealth will only make you greedy, and love for the sake of feeling loved will only make you lonely. Wealth for the sake of charity or family and love for the sake of friendship and giving will take you much farther. When you forget the reason behind what you do, you cease to recognize the person looking back at you in the mirror.
SAY “I DON’T KNOW”
The phrase “I don’t know” can be powerful and profound. It is a mark of maturity to admit you don’t have it all figured out. It is OK not to have an opinion on something, it is OK not to have an answer and it shows that you are an honest person.
FRIENDS WILL COME AND GO
This may shock you, but chances are the people you count among your closest friends today will be a small or insignificant part of your future. This isn’t going to be your fault or their fault, it’s just part of growing up. You’ll make new friends, you’ll lose touch with those friends, you’ll enter another stage of life and make more new friends. You’ll probably have one or two really close friends that withstand the test of time, but the majority will be a part of your life for a while and then fade into the shadows of social media. Enjoy every friendship while it lasts and realize that friends will come and go like waves in the ocean. Each friendship is beautiful and unique and worth the effort, but most of them will be fleeting. Don’t define yourself by other people.
ENJOY THE JOURNEY
First it was, “when I can read” then “when I can drive” or “when I can date.” Next, “When I graduate” or “when I get a job.” After that, “when I get married,” “when I have kids,” “when the kids grow up,” and “when I retire.” There is always going to be a next thing and there will always be a next stage of life that you look forward to, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Don’t be so focused on the goal or the destination that you miss the moment, because when all is said and done, life is a collection of precious and glorious moments. Pay attention to them. Each moment will become a memory.
BE TRUE TO YOURSELF
I don’t need to tell you this, but for most of you, high school wasn’t easy. You had to balance doing what you wanted with what your parents, teachers, coaches, friends and classmates wanted. You’re probably not going to miss that tension. Now it’s time to blaze your own trail. In high school, reputation was important, and what other people thought of you defined you. This is a new day. It’s time to be yourself and stand on your own. It is time to blaze your trail and make the life you wan to live. God go with you.