When my daughter admitted to me the other day that she was afraid of growing older because of the physical ailments that come along with aging, I told her that it wasn’t all bad because there are some trade-offs that we gain along the way. In imparting my sage words of wisdom, I realized I was completely contradicting every graduation speech I’d ever heard, including the ones I just sat through a few days ago at her brother’s college graduation.
So since we are in that season, I thought I would offer my Rebuttal to Graduation Advice.
1) You don’t have to accomplish monumental goals. College speakers try to inspire new graduates to dream Big and save the world. College recruiting directors like this because every time one of their graduates accomplishes something Big, it makes the college look good, so the institution can attract more students and more grant money.
However, as one speaker pointed out at the graduation ceremony we just attended, every time you accomplish a goal, there’s another one sitting just out of reach. Accomplishing goals is nice, but it will never bring lasting fulfillment. And the inability to achieve a goal can leave you feeling like a failure. So dare to dream Big and shoot for the stars if that’s what you want, but do not feel like it is mandatory. And remember that it is perfectably acceptable to change your dreams and rewrite your goals.
2) You don’t have to be true to yourself. No one actually knows what this means. We all change and we should change, or else life would become stagnant. If I remained “true” to my younger self I would have pink hair and a pink dog and drive a race car. This would have made my six-year-old self very satisfied, but my 53-year-old self hates pink.
I think better advice might be to take time periodically to evaluate what you want. Is it that prestigious title and the office with the great view? Or would you rather have time to go camping on the weekends? You will need to allocate your resources a little differently depending on what you decide is most important, and your most precious resource is time. Since your prorities may change, it is important to periodically reassass how you allocate your time.
3) You don’t have to save the world. One speaker we heard this week informed that group of a few hundred graduates that it was their job to save the world. That’s a pretty big burden to distribute among a rather small group of inexperienced though intelligent graduates. There is a tendency to assume that we need to tackle the big problems of this world before we pay attention to the small issues of day to day life.
I think it would be a lot more effective if everyone who wants to save the world started by improving their particular corner of the world. Instead of lecturing people on the dangers of global warming, try carpooling to work and take your lunch in a reusable bag. Instead of ranting on the internet about the injustice hundreds or thousands of miles away, volunteer to help disadvantaged students in nearby cities. Instead of posting pictures of abused animals, go walk a dog at a local shelter.
Pick up trash. Offer to give rides to people. Your small kindnesses can go a long way toward saving the world, because it’s a group effort, not a one-man job.
And last but not least, you don’t have to act on advice, and that includes mine. However, since we have two ears and one mouth, it makes sense to follow that proportion and at least listen to advice and hear the viewpoints of others before we voice our own. If nothing else, that will make you a valued guest at dinner parties. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but free dinners are not something to be passed up.
Best of luck to all those new graduates out there!