This article was written by me in the unlikely event that the actual 2012 commencement speaker at Greenwich High School, Lee Woodruff, critically acclaimed TV reporter, best-selling author, world-renowned journalist and wife of Bob Woodward, the TV anchor/reporter who was critically injured reporting live from Iraq and whom she nursed back to health after his serious brain injury and subsequently wrote a best-selling book about it as well as founded ReMind.org, a charitable foundation to aid families of the brain injured, decides not to show up at the last second due to flash thunder storms over GHS stadium (it might happen) or if she gets stuck in inexplicable traffic on I-95. She IS driving from Westchester County. If Lee can't make it, I offer this commencement speech despite my lack of credentials, although I was once in a yoga class with Tom Bergeron.)
Thank you graduating seniors, faculty, fellow-parents, bored siblings, grandparents who have no idea who Lee Woodruff is (not to mention who I am) and thank you especially to the people who are worrying how long it will take to present 641 diplomas.
I will try to be brief (not) but if you are good at math and need a distraction from what I am about to say, here is a math word problem for you:
If you have 641 seniors and each diploma takes 15 seconds to hand over and there is one podium for each of the five houses, how many hours will it take until everyone has his or her diploma? (Answer can be found at the end of this speech.*)
Before I begin, I'd like to thank you for allowing me to bully my way up to this podium on this memorable occasion. I remember my own graduation like it was yesterday and it was sentimental, although I have no recollection of who the commencement speaker was. I thought it was apt that I try to give you graduating seniors a commencement speech that you can hopefully stay awake through, although you are seriously sleep-deprived from your senior internship, for which you regularly got up early for after going to bed at 1 a.m.
I also hope that you garner a life tip or two that will impact your life -- or at the very least, keep you from flunking out of college for the first semester, which reminds me --
Parents, buy the college flunk-out insurance.
To give you just enough background without boring you to tears, I first muddled my way through college at an Ohio equivalent of U Conn Stamford and ended up with a degree in Education because the only other four-year program offered there was in Accounting, which would have been as ridiculous for me to study as it would for Charlie Sheen to go into the priesthood.
After somehow graduating, I held three subsequent jobs at which I was terrible before being fired from a fourth. Then, something weird happened: I saw a sign in a window at a New York Health & Racquet Club for aerobics teachers.
I didn't think I could do it but I wanted a free gym membership, so I walked in and applied.
I subbed one class, then another, and before long I was running the place.
The only big difference between this and my other jobs was that I loved it. I was good at this job not because I was trying to do what I thought was expected of m, but because I was happy. I had discovered the job I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I honestly didn't care if it was teaching aerobics.
For those of you who are rolling your eyes and are also secretly hoping that Lee Woodruff will come running down one of these aisles, one of the reasons I wanted to give this speech is to say to you Seniors:
- Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it.
- It is none of your business what other people think of you.
What other advice can I give you beyond "dream big" and "reach for the stars"?
Lots. I have learned many things beyond the calorie count in a typical spinning class (450) that I have found to be applicable to my life. What happens in a fitness studio is often a microcosm for the world at large, and I have narrowed the things I've learned in one down to these specific pieces of wisdom:
1. Nike's advice to "Just Do It" applies to most of the rest of your life, be it homework, writing thank you notes or calling home. The more you do not want to do it -- whatever "it" may be -- the better you will feel after you do. Passivity is corrosive to the soul. Strength and hope are not cultivated by sitting around browsing the Internet all day; they come from the everyday accumulation of the experience of living, everything from making a list and checking things off to baring your teeth and doing something you didn't think you could do. Bit by bit, even though it is agonizing and torturous and you are scared to death, doing the harder things in life is where you get stronger. A by-product of strength is hope and hope gives you a reason to live.
So Just Do It.
2. Character is forged in delay. Just like with waiting five minutes before you open the fridge and blow four days of your diet, instant gratification is overrated. If you can cultivate the power of restraint (not that I ever have), you will not only never be in the police blotter for road rage, but you will also develop self-awareness and you will see in a way that most Greenwich kids cannot until they are older, that getting everything immediately and exactly as you want it keeps you from developing the part of your personality that you need to develop to TALK your way into an upgrade to First Class that you will never need if you have already been pre-boarded and are waiting for us slugs to shuffle in. Waiting for things will make you a better person.
3. Deadlines are your friend.
4. Don't offer your opinion unless someone asks for it (my speech is an exception to this rule).
5. If the shoe doesn't feel great in the shoe store, don't buy it. And don't buy the first pair you try on. This can also be a metaphor for your love life.
6. Monitor yourself. You will now need to develop your own Parental Control dial. Being able to hear the words "don't go there" in your mind and to heed them is a powerful practice. Benjamin Franklin was the master of this. Addictions to things will sneak up on you and before you know it, you are playing Scrabbleblitz all night long, even though you have an 8 a.m. Intro to Macroeconomics Theory class in the morning. There is something bad about the human brain that doesn't know when it is totally hooked on something. So when you hear the words, "Come on! Let's have/play/smoke/drink one more," think of it like a speed bump, which means: Slow Down and Pay Attention
7. Workwise, be on the lookout for something that you love to do and figure out a way to get paid for it. If you are really connected to the mission of your job and you believe you are part of something bigger than yourself, then going the extra mile is easy.
8. You can be messy, but it will cost you. If no one in your life takes time to match socks when they come out of the dryer, you have already lost 473 days looking for the other one. Wasting time looking for things is annoying (I am a living example of this) and makes you late for stuff. Whether it is your keys or that email that your teacher sent you that NEED but you forgot where you saved it, being organized can simplify your life and keep you and those people living with you in a good mood. Always put your keys in the same place. That goes for your phone, your money, your car registration and it's exact location IN the glove box and most importantly, your beach pass.
9. My kids already know this, but don't count on your parents for money. You can hope for financial support from them, but don't count on it even if they have lots to spare. Money from your parents should be viewed like you should view a miracle; you can hope for it, but don't depend on one.
10. Happiness is a choice. Maintaining a positive attitude is something you can decide to do. Just like with diet and exercise, continuity is essential. Notice what if feels like when you are happy and determine to do whatever it is that makes you happy as often as possible. I had a friend who would walk into a gorgeous room and only notice that the painting on the wall was crooked. Don't be like that.
11. See fun as a priority. Most of you will be going off to college, so this bit of advice will most likely take care of itself. For most of your moms and dads, their college years probably tipped the needle to the highest end of their lifetime fun-o-meter. And since they are most likely footing the bill for college, perhaps I should not emphasize this point too much. (Parents, remember to get the flunk-out insurance)
12. Finally, take care of your health. When you are young, you think this means not smoking crack or getting to bed before 2 a.m.. But I am thinking more along the lines of working out. The great thing about exercise is that it quickly changes how you feel about yourself. Also, small lifestyle changes -- over a lifetime -- will help you stay younger for longer. The more you change, the more you want to change and your motivation, resolve, courage and ability to see things through will all improve as a result. You start to crave a salad!
And as for the vague promise of living longer (a thousand years from now), though it would be nice to have those years right up front in the cold hard cash of the present moment, ask anyone on their deathbed and they will confirm that one more minute, hour or year would be awesome.
So look forward to this next phase of your life. Enjoy today and boys, let your family take all the pictures they want, even though you are wearing a dress. Keep your handshake firm. Be sure to kiss your mom and don't stop hugging until she does. Write your thank you notes within one week.
Okay, make it two.
Will you please just do it before you leave for college?
Ah, it is so true. Youth is so wasted on the young.
*(Answer to the math word problem: I don't know! I never paid attention in math! I thought I wouldn't need it! Anyway, however quickly they can finish after your child has got his diploma is still too long.)