I was not asked to speak at Dartmouth’s Commencement Exercises this year. Or Harvard. Or Parkview High School. Or Zion Lutheran Pre School for that matter. Not particularly unusual but notable. However, if I was asked to speak these are the top eight things I would be sure to mention.
1. Your graduation does not mark the end of using your brain. I know you say your burned out and you never want to see another textbook again but don’t fall short of this great blessing you’ve been given in your education. You didn’t just learn the course material for your chosen career. You were taught to think and problem solve. Continue to grow, stretch, read, think hard thoughts, problem solve, did I mention read, debate about things you don’t know about, and of course, read.
2. Some habits you’ve started in college probably need to be changed. But some need to come out every once in awhile. Stay up all night talking with friends on the front steps. Make a run to the border with girlfriends at 2 a.m. Make the time for spontaneous road trips. Occasionally try to live on $3.23 a day to keep yourself humble. Don your alma mater sweats and cheer madly for your team.
3. In this next stage of life you need to occasionally feel sick to your stomach. If you’re not losing some sleep over a dream you may not be living life to the fullest. You have power in your education. You have a small safety net because of the time you’ve invested in your education. Make it worth something more than the piece of paper you were handed as you crossed the stage. Rarely play it safe by taking a few smart, slightly calculated risks. And then do something stupid that may or may not work out for you just to say you did it. Don’t lose out on living this life by trying to always live safe.
4. Will you please not feel weird about accidentally waving at someone you thought you knew but didn’t? What harm is there in being accident-ly friendly? Your world and brain and heart capacity has been broadened during your time at school. I promise it can handle just being a little nicer to the people sharing the same planet as you are. I see our world so interconnected but so disconnected from each other. Know your neighbors. Know your co-workers. Live kinder and generously.
5. At the risk of being redundant you need to continue to develop a certain condition called chronic literaritis. READ people and don’t tell me you’re “not much of a reader.”!!! Read fiction, poetry, the news, signs on the walls, graffiti, manuals, old textbooks, maps, magazines, google, tattoos EVERYTHING. Reading doesn’t mean reading cover to cover. Reading doesn’t mean finishing one book or article before you start another. Reading doesn’t mean you understand and comprehend every word. There are incredible stories going on all around you coming from so many avenue and sources. Take advantage of your beautiful gift to understand and create language.
6. Don’t buy into this crap of being a grown up. Yes, you need to start paying off your student loans immediately. Yes, you probably need to invest in some professional clothing other than sweats and old boyfriend t-shirts. Getting to work on time and doing what you say you are going to do when you say you’re going to do it is all very important. But, you had your best ideas when you were 6. Hold onto to some of that impishness. Don’t become so calloused and polished that you forget what it feels like to swing on a swing, swoosh down a slide, look for four leaf clovers, and feel the thrill of flying down the hill on your bike. Every year in August buy yourself a fresh box of 64.
7. The idea of balance is ridiculous. I know more people who are burned out and exhausted just trying to keep the homeostasis rather than just being honest with themselves. You are going to over eat, over drink, over commit, under discipline, over discipline, forget to put the trash out, leave dishes in the sink, neglect relationships, run out of money, drive too far and too fast. And when you do, like all of us have, circle back, re-evaluate, rest up, fess up, ask for forgiveness to yourself and others, saddle back up and get on with it. Just don’t forget to live this incredible life you’ve been given by being too safe. Live intentionally. Make the list of things you want to do and make it happen.
8. Breathe. I notice a lot of people walking around hyperventilating or worse yet apparently not getting enough oxygen to their incredible brains. Breathe, In through your nose and out through your mouth. Exhale fully, Inhale fully. Life is going to get hairy. If nothing else take the time to breathe and experience this incredible miracle of air filling your lungs. Breathing gives you focus. Breathing gives you life. Breathing allows that expandable gray matter between your ears to continue growing. Don’t forget to breathe.
In case Harvard gets wind of me in time for commencement next year, what else would you want the graduates to know?