Twenty-six years ago I donned the cap and gown, marching in step down the aisle in the steaming old Bangor Auditorium. Up on the stage I went, clutching that Bangor High School diploma, earmarking the culmination of thirteen years of formal schooling. Like the vast majority of you, I received no decorated honors that day. I wasn’t the valedictorian nor was I asked to give some flowery oration, words that would soon be forgotten by most, self included. Twenty-six years later, I now have that opportunity with a perspective unlike those you have heard or will hear from your fellow classmates. So to the graduating class of 2016, lend me your ears, or in this case your eyes and your minds:
You have been lied to. Okay, maybe lied is a bit too strong of a word. You see, those who have told these “lies” surely had the purest intentions. I guess if you really believe the words you say, is it really lying?
Lie #1: These are the best days of your life. Really? I don’t know how high schools function now, but when I went through you needed to ask permission and take a hall pass with you to go to the bathroom. Flash forward twenty six years, I simply get up without making a formal announcement, use the restroom, and return to work. That’s one small area. Where my days were pretty much set out for me, I now create my own path through life’s journey. I decide what I do for work, can go places when I want, and eat what I want, when I want.
While not perfect, I can assure you life at forty-four is so much better than it was at any point in my youth. That’s not saying I didn’t enjoy my high school days. I certainly did. Would I want to back and do it all over again? Not a chance.
Looking back and seeing life the way I do now, it’s amazing what was so important to us in high school no longer matters. The whole social status structure gets turned completely upside down as you age. Competency in whatever field you choose and how you treat others are more important socially than how athletic you were or how you dressed. The people you were trying to impress, few you will even remember when you get to be older.
On to lie #2: You can do anything you set your mind to. You’ve probably heard this a few times growing up. The intentions were noble but any of us who have lived this life for a significant amount of time knows differently. No matter how much I train, I will never be playing in the NBA. I also don’t have the intellect or the ability to become a doctor.
Now, what I just revealed to you may seem negative. It’s not. Taken in the right perspective it is actually liberating. Not only is it important to know what you are good at, equally, if not more vital is acknowledging your shortcomings. Sometimes it takes time, often years to figure this out. Once you do, you can then focus your energy and passion into those areas you were truly meant to become.
I should leave you with one major caveat, hence you believe the years beyond high school is a giant Camelot. Your future will only be better if you make quality life decisions. For the most part, we free or imprison ourselves with the choices we make.
If you’ve followed this space for any length of time, I’ve tried to impart pearls of wisdom periodically. For this occasion I think it’s appropriate to repeat one that was meant for fans attending contests but is applicable day to day: Don’t be an ass! This one nugget will carry you farther than your advanced degree ever will. How you treat people and the way you conduct yourself will define how successful you are.
Speaking of success, how will you define it? You will leave these halls and you should with grandiose dreams. What will happen when you don’t land that dream job by the time you are in you mid-20’s? Will you be like many and think life has given you a raw deal? Remember one thing: there is power in contentment. While its great to have plans laid out, life’s journey can change. Be prepared for it. Twenty-six years ago I never would have envisioned where I’m at professionally. I can honestly say I have a truly fulfilling career and have found true contentment at this stage of life’s highway. You can too.
The great English poet, John Donne, in his famous work For Whom the Bell Tolls, exclaimed no man is an island entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Our lives will continue to be intertwined with people of various personalities and backgrounds. There will be those who appeal to our greater goodness. There will also be those negative nellies, the Debbie Downers of the world. While we can’t completely eradicate negative people from our spheres, we can minimize the time we spend with them.
Oh, and if they are speaking ill of others in your conversations, chances are they are speaking ill of you when you aren’t around. “Just between you and I” generally isn’t just between you and I. They’ve probably spread their gossip to others before their juicy little secret has reached your ears.
As you enter into the adult world, you define what makes you happy. No one else does. The worst thing you can do is make decisions to please others. From what career path you choose, whether or not to have a family, make choices that work best for you.
In closing I’d like to say, congratulations on what you have accomplished thus far. If you continue to make wise decisions throughout your life, the best is truly yet to come.
Note: This will be my final column for the summer. Thank you to all my loyal readers and I plan to resume in late August or early September.