07/02/2009 10:03 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Letter to a Recent High School Graduate

Dear Norbert,

Congratulations on completing high school. You did it! I saw the pictures you posted on Facebook. You look happy amidst your other high school chums. You were among the thousands and thousands of young people who graduated last month. It's an important right of passage.

I graduated high school in 1986 and remember throwing my cap into the air. It was such a feeling of incredible glee and freedom. In 1986, you weren't even born then. I did not know that I would have a much younger cousin. Indeed, back then there was a lot I did not know. I did not know there would be such a world as this.

I did not know in 1986 that I would witness the inauguration of our first black president so quickly. I knew it would eventually happen. I just didn't think it would happen so soon in my lifetime. I thought I might see it at 61 not 41.

I was born in 1968, the year that Martin Luther King was assassinated. The year I graduated was the first year that the United States observed the first MLK holiday. I do believe people are willing to look past superficial details like skin color if your character is in good working order. Mr. King hoped that we will not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of our character. I hope you strive to better your character at every opportunity.

As you embark on a new chapter in your life, I hope news of late hasn't depressed you. Iran is experiencing civil unrest due to their political situation. People took to the streets of Tehran. It's inspiring seeing people protesting the powers that be, hoping for a better life. In 1986, Norbert, it was the country of our lineage, The Philippines, that experienced similar trials. People took to the streets of Manila to protest President Ferdinand Marcos. The people had their way and Marcos had to flee.

Even in the most difficult times never forget that you have a voice and have the power to change things. At the very least, vote wisely. You are now of voting age. Don't just vote for yourself, vote for the generation before and after you. I like to think that my time at the ballot box had made positive strides for you, me, and our parents.

I know you've graduated into a calamitous world. There's war, famine and plague. That was true when I graduated high school in 1986. That was also true when I was born in 1968. The fact of the matter is there will always be calamity. Somewhere in the world someone is fighting a war or starving or dying of disease. This is true of any time. Therefore, we must find joy where it exists. Dance as much as you can. Savor every delicious bite. And fall hopelessly in love.

Someday you'll look back at your high school pictures, perhaps peruse your year book. You'll see your young, lineless face filled with hope and wonder. You might wonder where did that young man go? Remember that you started with that optimism and no matter where the road takes you, you can always return to that optimism.

I look forward to your graduation party this month. You did it!