Friday, June 24, 2011

My Graduation Speech.

As predicted, ice cream making and shop running duties have kept me from the trusty Ice Cream Diaries, and more importantly, from my latest little writing project, The Sundae Experiment. It's been a fun little writing adventure so far, and I look forward to continuing it soon. Well, if not soon, in the Fall when some bit of balance returns to my life. In the meantime, I've had a writing idea swirling around in my head, since I caught the cool and inspiring graduation speech by Alan Alda at the Williston Northampton School a few weeks ago.

If you want to check it out, here it is...

It got me thinking, and it could pass as a Sundae Experiment question, what would I say if I were ever asked to give a high school graduation speech? I don't expect that to happen anytime soon, but I thought it might be fun to ponder what kind of advice I might espouse if given a podium overlooking a pond of caps and gowns.


Of course, it's crazy to even think of posting it here right after Alan Alda's great speech, so hopefully you haven't watched it yet. What the heck, life is about taking chances, so let's give it a shot..

Congratulations, class of 20(xx). You're about to commence upon the next leg of your life's journey. You've successfully made it through most of your adolescence in one piece. The person you see in the mirror is starting to look very much the likeness of the character you will play in the lifelong reality show called 'You'. Today, you're not so much celebrating the past four years of high school as much as your commencing into the world, like toasting a ship's maiden voyage rather than the four years in dry dock it took to build her. No matter what's next for you, college or working world, your scholastic obligations to society and to your parents have been met. You are free to go where the wind or your whims take you.

You should feel both liberated and terrified.

Let me administer my first advice with the following: take a deep breath, and enjoy this moment.

Your life's party is just getting started.

I can assure you there will be highs, and there will be lows. The good and bad news is both will pass. And when they do inevitably pass, let them go. Feel free to savor the good times, tell stories and look at photos. Don't be afraid to think about the not-so-good times too, for those will provide all the insights you need to navigate whatever lies ahead for you.

Sure, I've read all the best self-help books from Chopra to Gilbran, and you can too if you that's what inspires you. But I thought rather than lean on Steven Covey for his seven habits or drop my favorite Anais Nin quote, 'There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom', I'll save you some time by summarizing it all here - all the answers you seek are already inside you. I'm nearly certain this statement means nothing to you, but that's ok, you'll figure it out in your own time.

After high school, I went to college. Why? 2 reasons. One, because my parents never once made me think there was any other option. They weren't Mommie Dearest about it by any means. For them, it's just what you did to prepare yourself for a successful career, a solid way to provide a comfortable lifestyle for yourself and your future family. End of story.

The second thing that convinced me college was the best next step, believe it or not, was playing the Game of Life. If you remember playing that game, at the beginning you are faced with the choice of going down the college path or the career path. The college path almost always leads to bigger paydays for the rest of the game. After all, the object of the game of life is to have the most money when you reach the end, retirement.

I'm here to tell you that life doesn't always mirror movies, books, or board games. Sure, money can bring a certain amount of happiness, but not if it comes for the price of a job you hate that keeps you from being with the people you care about or doing the things you really want to do. To quote myself (although I'm fairly certain that's a blatant speech faux pas), 'there are plenty of unhappy people in big houses.'
LinkThat's not to say that I don't still recommend college highly. It can and will open doors for you that might otherwise remain closed or be much tougher to push open.

And just like the board game of Life, you will be faced with many other decisions. To marry, to have children, to buy a house, to save for retirement, to change careers, to get a tattoo. Some will work out better than others, but all will serve their purpose in your life. I went to college for engineering, graduate school for business. I worked at a giant company called AT&T for over ten years. Was I unhappy there? No. Could I have worked there my entire career and been fairly content? Sure. But a little voice kept whispering to me, 'there must be something more for you.' Had I not taken the action to look for another job, I would have missed out on an amazing start-up experience followed by two years of world travel which ultimately lead to a career 180 into ice cream and all things sweet.

My message is pretty simple. You may feel pressure right now to make this huge decision about what you want to be for the rest of your life. And if you know exactly what that is already, that's great. But no matter whether you do or you don't, it's fairly likely you may be doing something completely different in ten years anyway. Or twenty. Which, as you will hopefully learn, is one of things that makes life great.

Make the best decisions you can for the reasons that matter (hint: it's not about the money).
In the infamous words of fictitious fun-lover Ferris Bueller, 'Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.' True dat.

Push yourself to be better but don't beat yourself up too much if things don't work out exactly as you had hoped.

And remember, wherever you are in your life is exactly where you are meant to be. Don't let anyone try to make you believe otherwise.
Congratulations, Godspeed, do some good, and have some fun.


Ali West said...

Very well done. Your graduation speech rings true to the things kids need to hear, but probably won't absorb until later, after a few life lessons.

Definitely hits the spot of things we all need to remember and be aware of to work together on making this world a little calmer, a little more peaceful and a little more loving.

Excellent job!

Trace said...

Before I read your speech I decided to meditate myself into the shoes of a soon-to-be high school graduate and let your inspiring words wash over me as though I were still that young and the world was still my oyster.

When I emerged I realized that those ideas can still ring true at any stage in one's life, young or older. Maybe it's never too late to respond to that inner voice that says, "there must be something more for you than this."

Lots to think about... Thanks for sharing, Jim!