Tag Archives: graduation

The Commencement Address I Didn’t Give

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Today as I sat at my students’ high school graduation, I thought: I hope I never have to give a commencement address.

It doesn’t matter how engaging the speaker, how moving his or her message. Really, what we want to see is that student’s name called, watch her walk across the stage, get the diploma, move her tassel to the left, and throw her cap in the air.

We want to witness that smile that can’t be stopped because the work is done. Finally.

Only so much wisdom can be digested in moments of anticipation.

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This was the fifth graduation I’ve been a part of – whether as a student or as a faculty member – and I remembered my own high school graduation. Eight years ago.

I remember singing a song that was entirely inappropriate for a graduation because I’d been asked to sing and I didn’t have a lot of repertoire.

No one wants to hear “Pur di cesti, o bocca bella” when their children receive their diplomas.

And I have yet to see a flattering mid-singing photograph.

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I remember the strangest things about that day. I remember being so happy, driving my bug with the top down. I remember crunching a row of baby turtles on my way to school and crying because I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless.

I remember hardly believing high school was over and I remember being terrified of what September would bring.

I remember eating a celebratory lunch at Striper’s restaurant and overlooking the river.

But mostly, I remember feeling very grown up.

~     ~     ~

I don’t think I will ever be asked to give a commencement address. I’m more of the pep-talk teacher, the one who encourages in one-on-one conversations.

But if I did give one?

If I did try in ten minutes to bestow some sort of wisdom on young minds which couldn’t bear to handle one more ounce of wisdom?

I’d probably say the following:

Chill out. Please.

I know you think you are grown up. And you are, sort of. But not really. And by the way, I haven’t met many people who feel it and are.

I know you feel sexy in those five-inch heels, but trust me, you look far more elegant in flats and confidence.

People tell you “don’t have any regrets.” I tried that – I tried living in a place of denial, in a place that said, “I did everything right and I wouldn’t change a moment.” This place does not really exist. You will have regrets. It’s about what you do with that regret that matters.

You are full of ideas and dreams and expectations. (I still am – I hope I always am.) But wait. You might study music and never sing at the MET. You might get your dream job and loathe your existence. It might end up that college isn’t the road you should take. Don’t be embarrassed that you were wrong. Embrace the second chance.

Do not be surprised when you learn the same lesson twice. Or three times. Do not think you are dumb or naive. Sometimes it takes more than one experience to hammer in a new idea, a fresh lesson in growth. Let yourself be imperfect, but don’t let yourself stay exactly the same imperfect.

And this one might be the most important:

Choose without knowing the future. Take action without waiting for lightning. Make the best possible decision with the knowledge you have, and when you look back, give yourself grace. Do not chastise your past self for making the best possible choice with limited sight. This will paralyze you.

~     ~     ~

In May of 2016, I will walk across the stage and receive my Master’s diploma. There will be a commencement address. I will try to listen. I will strain forward or sit back with the ease of taking it in.

But my mind will be filled with life – my past, my future – and most likely, I will be feeling exactly the way my seniors did today: excited, a little afraid, but mostly hopeful.

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[On Going Back]

We all say the same thing: It’s a flash

and slug.

 

You can’t wrap up time in a pink box

and raise it high in definition. You can’t seal

an envelope with a slow, deliberate lick –

explain the work and love, hate and despair

of four years.

 

What do you say to two shining faces

that’s honest, loving, real?

 

Sometimes, I would forsake all the settledness

I’ve uncovered in these two stretched years

for one day surrounded by the me and yous

of that place.

 

Ponds are dark even when they’re shallow.

The paths around them hold every word

whispered, shouted, proclaimed

until you wonder if the very gravel

has ears.

 

So I tell them: Sometimes, I would forsake

all the settledness I’ve uncovered.

 

Mostly, though, I look with gentleness

at those long-tough times, and I praise God

for not giving me the choice.

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And two years later…

I got up a little early this morning. No reason, just the birds woke me up through the open window.

The water’s on for coffee, and I’m thinking about the weekend. Not for the usual reasons, but for the Big Ones:

My little brother and sister are graduating from college.

I was shocked by my own graduation two Mays ago, but this one. This one’s even more surprising.

I have no problem with me growing and changing and maturing. But my brothers and sister? No, can’t you just stay where you are? Can’t you keep going to school and thinking about classes?

Time doesn’t stop for other people, either.

My cousin and I were talking about what to wear, and I said, “Well, it better be cute, cause these pictures go down in history.” Our family has scads of graduation photos, all six of us cousins lined up, showing support and 20+ years of camaraderie. It started with me, and a year later my cousin, and now the twins.

It’s even stranger to hear my parents say it feels like yesterday they were in college.

What’s the deal?

I thought if I were slow and really looked at things – the sun in the plum tree, the honeybees gathering yellow pollen on their legs – that time wouldn’t seem so fast.

But even that doesn’t stop it.

Here’s to the beginning of a crazy busy weekend. Here’s to celebrating hard work, the end of an era, and the christening of a new one.

IMG_0313[This was seriously one of the best days of my life. I know it’s weird, but it’s true. My sister says I can post pictures of their graduation, so be on the look-out.]