Note: I had two children graduate in 2020 – smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. My oldest graduated from college and my youngest from high school. Given the bizarre circumstances we were now living in, we decided to have our own high school graduation ceremony in the back yard. As improvisation requires us to do, I stood on my back porch in front of neighbors and friends and cried as I read my commencement speech. Here is that speech.
I struggled to write this speech today. I have never spoken at a graduation before and most likely will not again. I looked up other graduation speeches so I could see what it is that they say that is so memorable. One enigmatic speaker talked about the most important person in his life, his father who had a 3rd grade education, but who taught him to live with integrity. Another person discussed the importance of following your dreams. Another person listed the ways to achieve greatness. Another implored the student body to never give up. And while these were all good messages, they didn’t feel right for me.
Someone told me once that you should write about what you know and whatever you say should come from the heart. So, instead of trying to write the most memorable speech, I will speak about what I know from my heart.
Many of you don’t know that my child started his life by saving mine. It was when I was pregnant with him that the doctor found the golf ball sized tumor in my throat that had likely been there for some time. At first, they thought it was an enlarged thyroid due to pregnancy. But a month after his birth, I was told that it was cancer. I spent the first year of his life, wondering if I would see his second year or her third or her graduation or wedding or all of the milestones that are so precious and dear to us. In truth, those days are somewhat of a blur – life was an emotional roller coaster filled with uncertainty and fear.
And as I stand here today, with my brother and his family and my oldest daughter participating from afar via online technology, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that the class of 2020 would graduate in the midst of a world wide shut down. That time would essentially stand still, while we stayed away and apart from each other. I don’t think my child or any other person here today could have guessed that graduation would take place on my back porch while our friends and family sit outside far apart to protect themselves and protect others from something we can’t see or feel, but something we know is risky and scary.
And as I reflect on my child’s first year of her life until today, I am reminded that life is sometimes risky and scary. That sometimes we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Sometimes we feel apart from others and it feels as if time is standing still. And anyone that just spent the last three months homeschooling their kids or being cooped up with their spouse knows just how much time stood still.
But I am also reminded that life is so much more than that. It is so much more than fear and risk. I am reminded that life is glorious and funny and that who you have by your side and in your life matters. I am reminded that Life matters. I am reminded that YOUR life matters. You matter. Every single one of you have a path to follow and a role to fulfill. So here is my advice to you:
1.) Be intrepid warriors for social justice, equality and the rights of all living things. Be silent only when you are listening. Let your voice be heard, for you never know who needs to hear what you have to say. And sometimes you’re the only one saying it.
2.) Fail marvelously. Fail marvelously because you will fail in life. Life will not always go as planned but embrace the failure because without it, you wouldn’t know success. You don’t have to be the best; you just have to be the best you.
3.) Ask for and accept help. We are not solitary creatures and we don’t live on islands of isolation. The greatest minds of our time have asked for help while on their journey. They have had mentors and tutors and friends who have lended a listening ear, a thoughtful mind or a hand to hold along the way. Accept it because you are it. Some days you will be the helper and some days you will be the helpee…and both are necessary.
4.) Live with intention. You must live life like you mean it with awareness and consciousness of who you are and who you want to be. You must understand the impact you have on yourself and others. And you must be present and observant allowing grace and ease to be part of the intention with which you live.
5.) Make decisions – lots of them. Make a decision and then make another one because there are no wrong decisions. If you make a choice and it doesn’t turn out how you thought it would, simply make another choice. No need to judge it as right or wrong, because all the choices you make are part of your path; ALL of your choices help you along the way.
And now the most important one so if you don’t remember anything else – remember this:
6.) Don’t let life get in the way of living. Life is meant to be joyful and humorous and full of good things. You are meant to be healthy and vibrant and juicy and delicious. IF life doesn’t feel that way, and there will be days when it doesn’t, check in with yourself. Focus on your emotions and your feelings and your thoughts. Be conscious observers of what brings you joy and what makes you feel off balance. And then work like mad, to right it again.
So, Class of 2020 go gently, go bravely, go timidly with uncertainty or go shouting at the top of your lungs. It doesn’t matter. Just go…