I wrote a commencement speech that no one asked for. Here’s why:
By virtue simply of having 654 children, I spend a lot of my life with today’s youth, and I couldn’t be more excited about the ways these people are going to change the world. It’s what I keep coming back to again and again as I watch the news reports of what’s going on out there get uglier and uglier. Is it fair to send these babes out into that world? Probably not. Am I glad we are doing it anyway? You bet.
I’m wholly unqualified to offer any helpful advice whatsoever, but so what? Just try to stop me.
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2017:
You probably feel like you are headed out into a major sh*tshow, and you’re right. You are. And part of that ― although not all ― is our fault. We’ve grown complacent, consumed with the trivialities that make up an adult life: paychecks and food and housing and other minutiae. We have forgotten along the way the need to keep the world in check and on its rightful path towards betterment.
That’s where you come in.
And yes, I get that it’s scary out there, and that this ceremony is a little akin to us releasing you into the sky like a bunch of colorful helium balloons, but for that I will not apologize. Because that moment of release is everything.
You see, you’re standing on the precipice of so much greatness that it makes my heart ache with fullness at the thought of it. Has there ever been a greater convergence of youthful exuberance and world need? Not in my lifetime anyway. The broken world is full of you-shaped holes just waiting to be patched.
God, what a responsibility, am I right? It’s overwhelming. So maybe don’t think about it in those terms. Think about it as a series of small changes, one day or footstep or kind interaction at a time, that builds a trail of light from where we sit today into a brighter future.
To that end, some advice, from someone whose accomplishment list thus far tops out at creating four small humans and not yet being divorced and is as wholly unqualified to dispense advice as our current president is to run this great country:
Make your bed. It’s a small thing, maybe the smallest and most pointless you will do all day, but do it anyway. Making your bed is a love letter you write each morning to your future self.
Look for the people with less and you will find where you should help. This has two benefits, the first of course being that it lifts us all up to a higher common denominator, but the second being that it’s harder to feel deprived when you are sitting at the table next to someone with a smaller plate.
Wear the swimsuit. Be in the photos. Smile. Laugh. Jiggle. Run. Do whatever it is you want to do but aren’t doing because you’re afraid you will look silly doing it. Yes, maybe you will look silly doing it. Do it anyway.
Find a way to tell your story. Make art. Write letters. Sing songs. Take up sky writing. Release the tale that sits like a stone in the pit of your stomach. The more the doing so makes you feel like barfing, the louder you should tell it. Tell it until the telling comes as natural as breathing, and then teach other people how to tell theirs until all of our voices rise up together united in the song of real truth.
Listen to other people’s stories. It’s the biggest gift you can give someone.
Use sunscreen. It comes standard now in almost everything you can put on your face, but remember to put it on your chest and your hands or parts of you will age at different speeds and you will end up looking like you’ve been sewn together out of the bodies of different generations. Trust me on this one.
Forgive people. Even those who don’t deserve it. Especially those who don’t deserve it. Don’t waste precious real estate in your heart holding on to grudges.
Don’t confuse luck with skill. Being aesthetically pleasing is not an accomplishment of note. Being born pretty is as much a toss of the dice as being born with a birth mark on your bottom, except the birth mark lasts forever.
Kindness is the always the right choice. Always.
Say no to anything that you don’t want.
Say thank you for everything, even the things you don’t want.
Find people who can make you laugh without doing it at someone else’s expense, for that is the height of humor. Anything else is a shortcut.
Stop trying to fit into anything that isn’t your size. This applies to shoes, pants, bras, jobs, relationships, and images.
Get a good mechanic, a good doctor, a good therapist, and a good hairstylist. Don’t confuse one for the other.
Find one thing in your life that when you do it, you forget everything else. If you can get paid for this, great. If not, do it on the side until you can.
Get more sleep than you think you need. Drink more water than you think you need. Eat less food than you think you need.
Accept and give compliments freely.
Don’t apologize for things you’re not sorry for.
Don’t get lost in the worrying. For all of us, life is a series of losses punctuated by moments of great beauty. Your balloon’s trajectory will follow your gaze. Look up, not down. Move forward, not back. And find a way to enjoy the ride, sweet babies. It will be over before you know it.