For the next few weeks, important people across the nation will stand in front of graduates and their families delivering thoughtful and articulate speeches to the class of 2011. I may never make one of these speeches, but after teaching the class of 2011 for the last nine months I decided to draft the speech that I would give them.
To the class of 2011:
Too many people will tell you today that you are our future. You’re not.
Thank you very much, but I have my own plans for the future and depending on yours they may intersect, but no, I’m not looking out with excitement about your potential to take care of my world tomorrow. I want you to change your world today.
You are not the future. That would mean that everything you do today has no other value than what it prepares you for at some future time. After today, some of you who’ve been in my Friend queue on Facebook will make the cut and I will confirm our friendship. But I’ll let you in on an important secret. Most of you have been my peers for months. I learn from you, I grow because of you, I become a better person because you were a part of my life. Now that you turn the tassle from left to right it merely becomes a matter of formality.
Maybe if you’d known this earlier you would have acted more like it. The classes you skipped, the tests you didn’t prepare for, or the homework you either half-way did or borrowed from a friend aren’t really the behaviors I expect from my peers. That’s ok though, just because I’ve called you a friend doesn’t mean that you don't still have some growing up to do. I have a little of that left myself.
But remember, you’re not my future, you’re your own present. So act like it.
All this future talk can lead you down the wrong road. For a long time, us adults were pretty immune from the whim of fad and fashion. It seems that technology has changed this as well. We’re motivated by the next best thing and constantly try to stay ahead of the curve. You’re graduating, it’s time to ignore the curve. Don’t spend your life chasing the tail of the world hoping to hop on it’s back for a ride. Learn who you are, embrace your identity. Whether it’s rooted in family, faith, or passion, embrace your identity and let the world chase your tail, and hop on for a ride.
Everyone will tell you that you’ve grown up in the information age, but the information age is coming to an end. Instead of chasing what’s next, discover what is enduring. The values that never go out of style—creativity, excellence, and generosity. Simply put, create stuff; do it well; and share it. Maybe you’ll make a few bucks off of it, but if you haven’t noticed, we’ve created a pretty rotten economy for you to inherit. Financial success is no guarantee, so you might as well work toward fulfillment. You’re more likely to find it than wealth, and really, if you find it, you’ve found wealth.
To everyone who graduates today, stand up if you were accepted into the college of your dreams; if you’re proud today of the accomplishments you’ve achieved in your sport or performing art; if you think of all your classmates and someone comes to mind that you’ve helped become a better person; if you’ve fallen in love or found a best friend; stand up if you’re just glad to be graduating and finally have high school behind you. ( I assume that includes everyone)
If you felt sick when the rejection letter came, have a seat; if you remember a moment when you forgot a line, hit a wrong note, or just blew a big game; if you’ve hurt someone in your class in a way you wish you could take back; if you’ve been heartbroken, or broken someone’s heart, or ruined a friendship by doing something stupid; if you’ve hated most every moment you’ve endured to make it to graduation today. (Again, I assume this covers everyone)
Congratulations to everyone who was able to stand tall! And also for taking a seat. You’ve experienced life. A rich series of events both bitter and sweet, sometimes all at once. Don’t fail to enjoy and savor the good, but don’t run from and hide from the bad. These are the moments that have made you the person you are and will continue to make you until death. Grab hold of them and own them. Be comfortable with yourself; and when someone asks about your future show them how you’re living it instead of telling them what you hope it will be.
Abraham Maslow said “I guarantee that if you strive to become anything less that what you are capable of you will never find happiness.” I believe that every one of you have something to offer this world. And we need it now. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Do something, do it well, and share it with the rest of us—today and for the rest of your life.