You won’t notice any changes immediately.
You’ll wake up tomorrow morning and things will feel the
same. You’ll have the same bowl of cereal and listen to
the same songs and say good morning to your family just as
you’ve been doing for years, but there will be
absolutely no doubt—and no denying—that your high
school years are over and that you have an opportunity now
to move on with your life and use your new situations to
start becoming the person that you’ve been put on this
planet to become.
let me warn you—very few people actually become the
persons that they were meant to be. Most of us become
something else, not following our dreams or our passions
or our skills or our talents. You have the chance right
now to decide that you will become the person whom you
were made to be. You’ll have that same chance tomorrow
and the next day, you’ll have it next year, and you’ll
even have it thirty years from now if you still haven’t
become that person, but the sooner that you make the
decision to work towards that goal, the more likely
you’ll be to actually reach it one day.
is a huge responsibility, but only if you choose to
consider it such. Nobody
can force you to take on such a responsibility. You’ve
seen plenty of films and heard songs and read stories
about making the most of your life and making your life
special, but now that you’re going to have not just the
opportunity but the requirement to make more of your own
choices in life, your decisions are going to be
consistently more involved with long-term effects on your
life. So far, much of the direction of your life has been
determined by decisions made by others—by parents,
teachers, coaches, and a whole slew of other people who
have hopefully had your best interests in mind.
the next few chapters of your lives are going to be
written by the decisions that you’ll be making
increasingly on your own. And while the chapters until now
might have been simple prose, you have the choice now of
making your life a stunning piece of poetry, an amazing
piece of visual art, or a play to put Shakespeare to
shame—it’s going to be your choice.
this is where a speech like this gets tricky. Because no
matter how much I might want to give you advice on how to
make your lives happy and fulfilling, I simply do not know
your world well enough to give advice on how to live your
lives in it. Your generation has grown up in a time during
which life is significantly different than life was when I
was your age, and your future will take place in a world
that’s very different than our world of today. Many of
the jobs that you’ll make your careers haven’t even
been invented yet. Many of the companies for which
you’ll be working do not yet exist. Many of the
technologies that you’ll be using every single day do
not yet exist, or are in such early stages of development
that they aren’t used regularly yet by anyone.
used to be that advice from an elder—and yes, I am an
elder now, I must admit—to a younger person meant a
great deal because that younger person was bound by
circumstance to lead a life that was very similar to that
of his or her predecessors. That is no longer the case for
the vast majority of us.
would love to tell you exactly how to write the next
chapter of your life so that you’ll become happier and
more fulfilled human beings, but how can I do so when my
own experiences are so far removed from yours? Yes, I know
about the Internet and I know about 3D printing and
virtual realities and I’ve been using the Internet for
almost 20 years now, but I’m experiencing these things
as an adult who was already well into my career as an
educator when they came along. They’re side roads that
provide me with useful and helpful and entertaining
information, but they’re not the main road that has
helped to define my life.
generation is the first to live your entire lives in a
world that offers constant access to almost unlimited
information and constant exposure to screens of different
sizes attached to processors that are growing increasingly
stronger, faster, and more reliable. Yours is the first
generation to be tracked mercilessly by marketers,
followed and analyzed not necessarily by human beings, but
by computer applications that have no way of caring for
you or about you at all—they track you solely so that
other human beings can sell you more goods more
effectively and make more profit from you.
world is different than mine was. And because of that
difference, I decided to ask the students of a seminar
that I taught at MSU this past semester, students who were
finishing their first year of college, what advice they
would have liked to have heard—and to have heeded—at
their own commencement ceremonies just one year ago. You
would really like these people. They’re very much like
you—intelligent and caring and full of hopes and dreams
and fears, just like you. And they’re speaking to you
one year after their own commencement ceremonies, sharing
with you what they consider to be the best advice they can
first thing they wanted you to know is that there’s no
reason at all for you to have to know what you’re going
to do with your life right now. You have a lot of learning
ahead of you, much of which will involve learning about
your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes,
your passions and your dreams. Some of the dreams that
you’ll have in your future haven’t entered your mind
yet simply because you haven’t taken a certain class or
worked at a certain job or visited a certain place yet,
but I can guarantee you that your entire world will open
up in different directions once you do.
you had told me at my own high school graduation that I
would one day be in the Army, I probably would have
laughed. After growing up in a military family and not
being particularly fond of it, I had no idea that nine
years later I would join the Army for four years and
learning an amazing amount from the experience. At my high
school graduation I had no idea that I would end up living
in Europe for five years.
never even considered teaching as a career until after my
first master’s degree, and now I’ve spent 25 years
doing a job that I love dearly. So don’t hurry with your
decisions, and once you make them, keep yourself open to
the possibility of change. You may start college as a
nursing major, yet end up doing medical research because
you find that you’re really good at it and you love
doing it. You may start working on car engines and move on
to working on airplane engines later because the
technology involved fascinates you. Our daughter worked in
banks for seven years after high school, a job that
allowed her to explore many different things that she
loved to do, and now she’s studying to become a
leads to another piece of advice that they would give
you—explore ways to follow your passions in life. You
have been created as a completely unique individual with a
completely unique set of likes and dislikes, skills and
weaknesses. If you spend your life working in a field that
you don’t care about or at a job that caters to your
weaknesses, then guess what? Take the time necessary to
find out what your true skills and strengths are, and then
use them to make a living for yourself and for the
families that you may have one day.
as you search for your skills and passions, they also want
you to remember to trust yourself—not just your
knowledge and your logic, but your heart and your
intuition. You’ve been given an amazing brain that is
capable not just of receiving and interpreting
information, but that’s also capable of relating what
you know to your own life, your own wants and needs, your
own fears and dreams and capabilities and limitations, and
you have a heart that adds in the extremely important
elements of love and intuition, which very often are much
more trustworthy than anything that your brain can come up
live in a society that tends not to value the power of the
heart. We want everything to be quantified and scored and
compared against the means and the standard deviations. We
want support for every claim, and we don’t want to hear
anything that hasn’t been “proved” by science. I
made my decision to become a teacher because it felt
right—I certainly didn’t do a lot of research that
showed me just how rich I would become as a teacher.
We’re growing farther and farther away from our
natural state, the state in which we understood more about
nature and more about life. As we use and trust our
intuition less, it grows weaker—but you’re still
young, so I would encourage you not to let your intuition
die, but to use it as much as you can and trust it like
the faithful friend that it is. Some of the most important
decisions that you’ll ever make will be made with your
heart, and they’ll tend to be the decisions that you can
most rely on to be the best decisions for you and for the
people you love.
More than likely, you’re going to think that the
next piece of advice comes from me, but I promise you, it
comes from the students. And you’re going to love it:
Leave your cell phones home.
A lot. What
impressed me the most about the discussion we had about
this advice was that it didn’t focus on the negative
aspects of being addicted to the cell phone, but the
positive aspects of not having it with you. They said that
they were able to focus much better on their studies and
that they were able to have much better conversations with
their friends when there was no chance of feeling a need
to answer a phone or to send a text message or to check
social media to see what’s going on there.
In short, when they don’t have their phones with
them, they’re able to pay much more attention to the
world around them—and they seemed surprised to have
learned that the world around them is a beautiful,
magical, fascinating place that they simply hadn’t given
a chance in the years since they got their phones.
Give the world and the people around you a chance,
and leave that phone home.
had more for you, but our time is growing shorter.
I’d like to leave you with a couple of important ideas
that I hope can prove to be helpful to you.
All the advice in the world can be completely
useless if we don’t have any practical strategies for
putting it into practice.
of life basically comes down to making decisions.
And the decisions that we make basically fall into
two categories: actions
and reactions. In
my life, I’ve found three strategies for making
decisions that have proved to be extremely useful.
And if you have useful strategies for
decision-making, much of your life’s story will flow
much more smoothly than it would if you were to have to
spend tons of time and energy agonizing over the options
that life presents to you.
personal strategies have been developed by studying the
strategies of many other people who are much wiser than I,
and they consist of three simple questions that can be
modified to fit almost any situation in my life.
first one has to do with my contribution to the world.
In any given situation, we’re helping something
to grow, and we’re keeping something else from growing.
Interestingly enough, most of what we think are
actions are really reactions.
This question addresses my possible reactions.
someone does something that upsets me, or when they do
something that annoys me, I have to keep in mind that my
decision of how to react is my choice.
So when someone cuts me off in traffic, do I flip
them off and swear at them, or do I let it go?
question that I ask myself is, “Am I contributing to the
peace in the world or to the anger?”
In my mind, there’s already enough anger in the
world, and I don’t have to give it any more.
I want to contribute to the peace.
So I don’t flip them off.
I let it go.
someone does something mean or rude to me and I have to
decide whether or not to forgive that person, I ask
myself, “Am I contributing to the resentment in the
world, or am I contributing to the love?”
our society has taught us that to contribute to the love
and peace by deciding not to “get even” is a sign of
believe that. Strength
and character allow us to turn away from anger and
revenge, no matter what other people may think of us.
I’m sure you all remember what Atticus told Scout
about courage: I
wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting
an idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.
It’s when you know you’re licked before you
begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no
second question has to do with looking at life in
ask myself, when I look back on this situation tomorrow or
next week or ten years from now, will I be proud of the
decision that I made, or will I regret the decision I’ve
made or the actions I’ve taken?”
Will I have faced risks and moved on with my life,
or allowed my fear to control me and keep me from doing
things that I’ve really wanted to do?
I got my bachelor’s degree in Spanish many years ago, I
knew that my language skills would never reach the level I
wanted them to reach unless I lived in a country where
Spanish is spoken all the time.
So I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and ended up
living in Europe for three years.
There was only one problem with the plan—I
didn’t have any money.
There were several times when I went at least a
week living on nothing but a loaf of bread and a block of
cheese, but I was able to find work teaching English
because of my B.A. It
was easily one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken, but
it was also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,
one that has benefited me in innumerable ways.
I grow old one day—and no, I’m not quite there
yet—I’ll look back on that decision as an extremely
important aspect of my life, and I’ll have no regrets
about not taking risks.
third question is an either/or question.
It’s similar to the first question, but this one
focuses on me as a person rather than on the situation or
the decision. It’s
I be the person who shows love or the person who shows
I be the person who knows my job well, or the person who
just gets by and who makes excuses for my performance?
I be the person who respects myself or the person who
allows other people to abuse me?
I be the person who gives a decent-lengthed commencement
address, or the person who goes on and on and on without
three questions allow me to contribute to the world in
positive ways, and help me to become the person that I
truly feel I was created to be.
let’s get back to you, and how these questions might
help you. The
truth is that you are a magnificent creation, but unless
you truly believe this fact and decide to respect the
being that you are, your magnificence will be lost on the
make no mistake about it—you can be magnificent as a
doctor, as an electrician, as a dental assistant, as a
server in a restaurant or as a housewife or househusband.
You can be magnificent as a private in the Army or
an Airman, as a police officer or a cashier.
Your magnificence depends mainly upon one thing:
how you treat, and how you contribute to the other
human beings who share this planet with us.
It depends on how you share the wonderful gifts
that are an essential part of who you are—and each of
you has a completely unique combination of gifts with
which to work.
magnificence depends, in short, upon how you love the
people in your life and how you love this amazing planet
that we’ve been given to live on.
will be afraid. Face
your fears and move on anyway.
will have doubts. Acknowledge
them, accept them, and move past them.
will feel lonely and isolated.
Realize that it’s a feeling, though, and not a
reality, and accept that feeling as a part of your life.
will let you down and betray you.
Accept that fact and keep in mind that the problem
is theirs and not yours.
As a result of their actions, you’ve simply
learned something more about whom you can place your trust
you write the rest of your life story, there will be times
when you feel discouraged and weak, lonely and afraid,
anything but strong and brave.
When that happens, I challenge you to recall this
moment, right here and right now.
When you need strength and courage, I challenge you
to remember that you are loved.
room is full of people who love you dearly and
of them have a hard time showing it or ways of showing it
that are difficult to understand, but the truth is still
of the people on this stage love you.
other 23 people wearing those robes love you.
human beings in the chairs behind you and in the stand to
your left and right love you.
that love. Accept
it and allow it to be an integral part of who you are.
When you need strength, when you feel alone, when
your courage is waning and your doubts are trying to
overwhelm you and keep you down, tap into that love and
allow it to hold you high and dry above the floods that
are threatening to drown you.
of my favorite authors, Rainer Maria Rilke, called those
challenges “dragons” when he wrote in a letter, “How
should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are
at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons
that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all
the dragons of our lives are princesses, who are only
waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something
helpless that wants help from us.”
are loved, deeply and fully and unconditionally.
That love can help you not just to face the dragons
of your life, but to convert them into the princesses that
they truly are.
you go from this place, take the love that permeates every
square inch of this entire town—take it with you and
spread it generously in the form of help, of
encouragement, of sincere compliments, in the form of
understanding and compassion, and what you spread cannot
help but come back to you.
you leave this place you are commencing a new chapter in
your life. In
this new chapter and in all the coming chapters of your
future, please, be beautiful and be brave.