**the first half of the speech was very personalized to the graduating class. Below is the 2nd half that focuses on my main message**
My starting point was asking myself “what do I wish somebody told me when I was 18?” because what I was hearing at your age, didn’t really do much for me.
So the message I’d like to elaborate is on is “be open to life, and stay true to yourself”. Here is what I mean.
Up until now, you’ve been told what success means. Yet, nobody knows better than yourselves what a “life well lived” means to you on a personal level. You’ve had great examples of how people can live their lives from your family, to your peers, and your instructors, but how they live their life is a reflection of them. Not you. In some cases, you might fully agree with what they do and how they do it in life. However, with many, you won’t. And the key in developing a life that you really want to live is being able to draw the line between what you want and what others want of you.
But at this stage of the game, you most likely do not know what it is that you do want out of life.
You just know that you want out of High School.
You’ve made decisions that have served you well at this point of your life and in many cases, you’re not sure where those decisions are leading you. And this is a tricky spot. It’s easy to get pulled in one direction or another by influences of other people, yourself and even fear. Those people that are around you trying to point you in a direction are doing so out of love, but in many cases, it’s not representative of what you fully want.
So how can you build a meaningful life without knowing where you are going and having influences and choices all around you?
I’m a fan of not having concrete plans for life because we’re not always sure what life will bring. (You’ve heard the saying, How do you make God smile? Go ahead and make some plans). For example, married by 28, child by 29, house by 30, promotion by 31, etc. But I am a fan of have strong values that allow you to show up to each challenge, event and opportunity with a certain quality of mind that allows you to decide for yourself, how it is that you want to handle it.
Let me use an example of a ladder and a wall. If you take the wall as the challenge and the ladder as the work to get up something, then high school has been your latest wall and all the hard work, the long nights, and stress has been the ladder. And you’ve done it.
Up until now, the walls in your life have been given to you and it was your job just to get up the ladder.
By now as you move out of this very structured world, you’re good ladder climbers.
But the question that is going to be in front of you currently is not “how do I climb this wall?” but “what walls do I climb?”
This is an exciting prospect.
You now get to decide what walls you’re willing to go up. But here’s the harder part: the walls that you want to climb might not be popular with those in your life that hold influence.
Your friends might be making other climbs, and parents pointing to the walls they think you should climb.
But in the end, it’s you that has to be happy with what you are doing despite the friction that might occur with those around you.
And this starts in September. What you study, or what you don’t study , who you spend time with, who you date, what you do on weekends–all of those are walls placed in front of you. High School has given you the skills to climb, now you not only have to decide what is climb-worthy, but find the courage to do it.
Courage is not the absence of fear but its action in the face of it. And when it comes time to picking a wall, your being courageous is not only about choosing the challenge, but also defending it to those that may question it, and then acting upon it.
So how do you find the courage to listen to yourself and then act? I’ve got 2 ideas for you.
1. Let your mind float in uncertainty for a bit. Let yourself entertain thoughts. In the next years, you’ll meet some incredibly talented people and it will be easy to think that your skills, abilities and potential is somehow less than theirs just because they seem so good. And when confronted with a test, club, sport, social engagement, sometimes the tendency is to recoil because we see it as too big, too hard or too beyond where we are. We shirk ourselves in the face of a large challenge.
But if you can just keep your thoughts at a “what if “and look at it with a curiosity, you’ll grow in the face of that massive challenge. That recoiling, that shrinking that we do, will disappear. Let the newness of something stay with you and try not to run away from it. Let it settle. Let yourself get used to it. That first night away from home, that GPA you want, the med school, the organization you want to join and even that somebody you want to talk to, let yourself be in the uncertainty of “what if” and not hidden in the shadows of “no way”.
2. Take the massiveness out of decisions. Making a decision can often seem too big because we project it for the rest of our lives. At 18, you’re being asked to decide what you’ll do until you’re 70. Something seems off in that, no?
When you choose a wall to climb, what you choose is not set in stone.
A decision you make in 1st year college, or even in your senior year in high school might not seem like the best thing by the time you hit 2nd year.
And here’s something I don’t think a lot of people will tell you.
It’s OK to stop climbing.
It’s OK to pick a new wall. Some people might think since they’re there, they might as well keep going, but what’s the point of getting to the top of the ladder when it’s against the wrong wall? The work you did to get halfway up a wall, but then decided it is not for you, is not time misspent. All of those experiences have allowed you to figure out what it is that you truly want to do. But to keep climbing after realizing that this is no longer your thing, that is a waste. Stand up to those around you that will give you a hard time for wanting something different and be true to yourself. Find the courage to act.
In my own life,
I’m also leaving our beloved High School and in fact leaving education. I’ve 3 degrees, and 15 + years teaching, but something new has caught my eye. It’s not negating my love of education nor my experiences, but rather, it’s a logical next step. I was halfway up one wall, and I’m gladly getting off that ladder going to another one. And I tell you this not because I’ve succeeded at doing this yet, but rather to let you know by example, that it’s OK to investigate other options in life. Like I said, the decisions you made this year, are not set in stone.
“Stay open to life and true to yourself” because in the end, who we are as people is a direct result of what we choose to do. And there’s a quote that I like that sums this up. It says “We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them”. You’re not going to get rid of all life’s sorrows, but you can minimize them.
The truer you are to your vision of life, the more joys you’ll have.
And I wish you, many, many joys.
I only highlighted 2 points on how to live a life that is true to who you are as a person, but what would you add. Comment below and elaborate on what message you think an 18 year old must hear.