Social media and the Real World are filled with graduations right now. If I’m ever invited to give a high school commencement speech, here’s what I would say:
Greetings Students, Families, Teachers and Administrators,
Let me say this right at the start so it’s clear and out in the open.
I hated high school.
Pretty much every minute of it.
Inside that building I was a misfit, a weirdo who didn’t know herself or who she wanted to be. After 8 years of happy school experiences, for various reasons, I found myself isolated during most of my classes, so I buried myself in books and just tried to get through every day. Friends and activities outside of school kept me buoyed through those miserable years.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who would feel hopeless when some clueless adult would say, “These are the best years of your life.” What a thoughtless thing to say, especially to a teenager, whether they were the misfit in horn rimmed glasses or the captain of the cheerleaders. God willing, we’ve got a lot of years ahead but apparently, by Clueless Adult’s standards, it’s all downhill from here…
48 years after my own high school graduation, I can tell you that life is a roller coaster. There will be highs and lows. Successes and failures. Things that make you feel on top of the world and things that feel like the end of the world. Know that the decisions you make today, even if you’ve posted them on Instagram for posterity, can be changed, upgraded or abandoned completely. Your worldview, your interests, your relationships with people and the planet will change. And so can your life trajectory. Don’t stay on a dead-end road when you can take an on ramp to the boulevard of your dreams. And even if your dreams change it’s okay because there are hundreds more on ramps along the way.
I’m going to share this one piece of advice with you that my mother gave me one evening in the summer of 1973, at an international gate at Logan Airport, waiting for my flight to London. It was my first time on a plane and, at 17, I would be going solo across the ocean and changing planes at Heathrow for a short hop to Manchester. She said to me, “Ask questions. If you get lost, ask!” Even though she was only trying to get me to the north of England in one piece, this is more than directional advice. It’s life advice. And remember, this was way before Google and Siri. Kids, life is an open book test and you’re allowed to use anything and everything you need to succeed, whether you’re trying to make dinner or save the wombats! Never stop asking questions because sometimes the answers beget better questions and those answers can shape your life in ways you never could have imagined.
Friends and family will probably give you some presents—fancy pens, watches, maybe cash. But the gift I’d like you to give yourself is a reset. Whether it’s allowing yourself to be the Real You the atmosphere of school discouraged and maybe even disparaged or resetting the expectations you have of the way you will demand to be treated and respected from today forward, commit to your soul that you will accept this gift. That may mean tearing down walls you created in self-defense, to hide or to conform or to contain your pain and fear. It may mean losing membership in groups that admitted the deliberately curated version of you that met their criteria. Maybe the people who suddenly withhold their love will need to be replaced by carefully chosen family. This is going to require total honesty and supreme courage. It may be the best gift you ever get, though, because the sooner you begin to live as your authentic self, the sooner your real life, with its inherent happiness and freedom, can commence.
And isn’t that why we’re all gathered here today? So, the rest of your life can now commence?
Just one more thought and then I’ll leave you to celebrate the closing of your high school chapter and the beginning of your next adventure.
Ok, this may sound simplistic but the universe is waiting for what you have to offer. There may be nothing new under the sun but each of us offers a new interpretation, a unique perspective, be it art, zoology or anything in between. You’ll bring a singular combination of life experience, emotion and your own brand of magic to everything you’ll do. Never doubt that your viewpoint is valid. Believe that you are not the only one feeling these feelings and thinking these thoughts. Define your own success and be happy with your achievements and don’t waste time comparing yours to anyone else’s. Create your best life on your own terms and in your own good time. And don’t forget to nurture your inner peace and happiness because they need infinite and tender care.
Now, go on.
And have a piece of cake for me ❤