As I stared at the sea of caps and gowns that lined the Bank United Center, I wondered what I could share with these my Cavaliers on a day so filled with emotion and expectation.
"Graduates, if I could have your attention," I said. "As you know, I too am a proud graduate of Coral Gables Senior High and today, in honor of the alumni bond that we share, I'd like to tell you a secret. Today, I'm going to tell you my personal secret, I'm going to share with you how I have managed to create a life that is in line with what I value, a life that I am proud of, a life that affords me the opportunity to do the things I love and have it all make sense."
As I looked to the sides and saw their parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, I had to pause and recognize the importance of family. "Graduates, I would be remised if I didn't include a pertinent part of my story prior to my revelation, mainly that I was raised by unconventional people who from my earliest moments told me that I was wonderful, that I could achieve anything I set my mind to and that what people thought of me was none of my business; parents who exposed me to diverse people, places and cultures and taught me that I could learn something from every living thing; parents that lived amazing individual lives that had nothing to do with my siblings and me. I recognize that not everyone gets that kind of start and so I must always begin by thanking my wonderful parents for teaching me authenticity by example."
I took a deep breath and said: "Fellow Cavs, my secret contains four C's: be conscious, be curious, be confident, value your connections and rarely compromise."
"But being conscious doesn't mean just being awake. There are lots of people who walk around like zombies, going through the motions, surviving the everyday and never enjoying any of it. Equally sad are the people who run around doing stuff and never take a moment to enjoy the present. Once upon a time I was one of those people, always striving, always thinking that happiness was just one achievement out of my reach."
As I paused, I considered that the fact that I once had that problem is one of the many reasons I love speaking at high school graduations, because while life rarely pauses to acknowledge, let alone celebrate achievements, today it does. "Today, graduates, you are surrounded by family and friends, steeped in symbolism and tradition; 100 percent aware that today is your graduation, the culmination of years of hard work and lots of luck. But today is the exception to the general rule," I added.
"More often than not, you will achieve amazing things and only recognize the magnitude of the moment when you look back on it from a distance. So make time to pause and enjoy your achievement, be aware of who you are and who you want to be. Don't overplan, because the reality is that you can't plan every step and sometimes what you least expected will be your greatest happiness."
"Today, I remind me to be and stay curious. Curiosity and wonder are what will keep you young at heart. Life is a progression; life is about personal growth, people who are personally and professionally successful live in the present and wonder, rather than dread, what lies around the corner of our lives."
"Today, I ask you to be confident. You wouldn't know it from talking to teenagers who know everything; but outside of high school, in universities, boardrooms, office buildings and dinner tables throughout our nation, there is a huge confidence gap. The phenomenon impacts mainly women but even men feel that they don't belong, don't measure up and therefore shouldn't lean in." As I lean over the podium, I added: "lean in anyway, bite off more than you can chew and figure it out. You are capable of more than you know and if you don't take a risk or two or three you'll never know what you are truly made of."
"And speaking of fear and failure, graduates, people are so scared of getting hurt that they fail to make connections. But connections are the reason for our existence and you should value your connections. Now, I'm not talking about dating or chemistry, which you have mastered. I'm talking about surrounding yourself with people that you value, people that you respect; people who will reinforce the best version of yourself and tell you when you are being the worse version of yourself."
I paused for emphasis: "Who we spend our time with says a lot about what is important to us." "Who we share our lives with says everything about who we are," I said.
"My fellow Cavs, my mother used to say that there are two kinds of people in this world; people that will weigh you down, and people who will give you wings. People who weigh you down collect mistakes and failures and tie you to them like an anchor, while people that give you wings, make the point and let it go because they want you to be better, because they want to see you soar. So if you don't like something, rather than criticize the person about it, make a request, ask them to change it and tell them why it's important to you."
"Not to sound like a fortune cookie, but life is precious and while we can't control who is in our lives, we can control who we share our lives with, so choose to share your life with good, self-confident, well-adjusted people. People who value what you value, people whose opinions add to instead of subtract from your life. And if you are blessed enough to find these people, value them, make time for them and insure that they know that you consider them one of your many blessings."
"And finally, graduates, rarely compromise. Compromise is a necessary component of professional success, it helps you to team build and learn, it gets you from point A to point B and learning to give and take is an essential part of professional success. But in the personal realm, you have to be careful with compromise because compromising what is fundamental to you is not a compromise but rather a surrender that hurts your personal integrity."
I paused to make it more practical: "graduates, we can negotiate the little things, chores, purchases and even some parenting decisions, but no one should ask you to relinquish what you love and value. Because what you love and value is as much a part of you as your arms and legs and to love you is to love what you love. So be honest and up front about what you love and value, set boundaries and establish early and often what is non-negotiable."
"My fellow Cavaliers, take it from someone who sat in your place several decades ago; it all moves so quickly, and if you aren't careful you'll wake up one day and wonder who the person in the mirror is and why he/she is living this life that you don't agree with."
As I step away from the podium, I added: "and that is my secret for a happy life; be conscious, be curious, be confident, value your connections and rarely compromise."
"Congratulations Class of 2014, may God continue to bless you and GO CAVS!"