Graduation time is here. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students the world over are donning their caps and gowns as they bid farewell to high school and college. It’s also that time of year when noted celebrities give profound commencement speeches about the purpose of life and why you should floss your teeth everyday.
My opinion? Those lovely speeches are wasted on the wrong people.
Once upon a time, I too was a high school senior. In fact, I was the one giving a speech at my graduation, as I was the class salutatorian. Being salutatorian is a dubious honor at best. Does anyone care – or even remember – who placed second in a presidential election? Or more importantly, the Super Bowl? Yet you would think that since I fared well academically I would have been off and running come college, ready to tackle the world with both arms.
I floundered during my first few years of school. In fact, I failed college, both academically and pretty much in every other way as well. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing or what I wanted. I only went to my *first* college anyway because my best friend applied there. She decided to do the pre-med sequence, and that sounded pretty good, so I did, too. I figured that becoming a doctor was the natural choice for me. After all, I had won my high school’s science award. However, not only did I perform horribly in every single one of those classes, but also I realized that I wasn’t that upset about it. Yet it was the not being upset that upset me. Even more disturbing was that the courses I enjoyed the most were – horror of horrors – the acting classes I was taking to fulfill my general education requirements. What the hell was happening to me?
I applaud the college freshmen that know exactly what they want out of life and how they’re going to get it. I fell into the latter category, though; I was an eighteen-year-old with a long road ahead of one or two hits and many misses before I realized what my life should be. A total of four schools and two degrees later, I am just finally beginning to somewhat feel that maybe I’m perhaps getting close to possibly figuring out what I might be good at… I think. Moreover, if you had told my eighteen-year-old self that I would one day be a writer living in LA, she probably wouldn’t have believed it. Partly because I never thought a career could be something that didn’t feel like work, and partly because I never thought I would willingly move somewhere with worse traffic than Chicago.
That’s not to say everyone should go about it my own winding way. On the contrary, I took a few licks here and there that I would very much like to forget. Yet those mistakes taught me the most valuable lessons. FYI, never enter into a living arrangement with a friend who is less than 100% financially reliable. If even once you have to convince yourself, “No, really, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” then run – don’t walk – from the leasing office. Now that’s something I wish someone had told me when I graduated high school.
Taking stock of your life at the end of high school or college is like getting a car wash in the middle of a Midwestern winter. It’ll be covered with ice and salt again in fifteen minutes, so what’s the point? Graduates may think they know it all, but the truth of the matter is that it takes a few years – or decades – before the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s exactly when those eloquent speeches might actually mean something to us.
For all of you who now pull all-nighters because of a colicky baby rather than a chem final… For anyone who prefers to blow off steam with a nice cup of chamomile tea instead of a keg stand… Now’s the time to hit up YouTube. Search “commencement speech.” At the top of the results is Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address. Take a minute (or 15 of them) to watch it.
Done yet? Cool. Pretty much everything he says is awesome, and certainly his words regarding death now hold a greater poignancy because of his passing last October. However, I’m drawn to the part about connecting the dots. As he states, you can’t connect them going forward. Most twenty-two year olds have accumulated zero dots to connect anyway, so they can’t really understand what he means, but hopefully the rest of us do. Looking back on the years since high school and college, can you see the connections? Regardless of any missteps you may have taken along the way, can you see the picture of your life taking shape? It’s like those dotted images in kiddie coloring books. It can be difficult at times to make out what it’s supposed to be, but then all of sudden you see the blooming rose or soaring eagle. If you too can look back at your life and see something beautiful, then congratulations. Better than any 4.0 GPA or graduation honor, that’s something truly worth celebrating.