I attended the White Station High School graduation ceremony last weekend. My stepson crossed the stage without incident, got his diploma, and is now ready to fly the nest, come September. He's a great kid, a good student, and we're very proud of him. (Not as proud as a few families, who, despite pleas from the principal to refrain from applause and demonstrations of enthusiasm, went nuts when their family member crossed the stage — signage, horns, etc. We opted for the restrained and tasteful, "Whoo!")
The speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian were sweet and touching, if somewhat predictable: "It seems like only yesterday, we were lowly freshmen, wandering the halls, lost and confused ... ." Right. Give it a few decades, kid. It'll still seem like yesterday. And you'll still be lost and confused.
I've never given a graduation speech, but I have heard lots of them. Some were notable: Patriots Coach Bill Belichick gave the commencement speech at my son's Wesleyan graduation. (I don't think he said anything about always making sure your balls are properly inflated, but it was a while back.) But most graduation speeches are pretty predictable. If I were ever to give one, I would keep it short, mainly because everybody just wants to go take pictures of their grad and get their mimosas on.
Life is precious and goes by quicker than you can imagine. Don't risk losing yours because you want a thrill, e.g., jumping off a cliff with a parachute or putting street drugs in your body or standing on your head to chug a beer. Darwin was right. Nature winnows out the idiots. Don't be one.
Love your family and friends. They are your refuge.
Avoid the herd mentality. Don't be a blind follower or a pleaser. Learn to step back and assess situations and have the courage to say, "Nah. Y'all go ahead."
Fail. If you're not failing once in a while, you need to reassess your life and find something that challenges you. Everybody gets fired at some point. You'll survive.
Find work that makes you happy, and don't stop trying until you do. When you discover your purpose, everything else gets easier, including relationships. Some people spend their entire lives bitching about their job, instead of changing it. Or themselves. Don't be that person.
Don't take yourself too seriously. Pretty much everything is funny, eventually. Including you. And that stupid beard.
Keep up with what's going on in your community — in government, politics, the arts, its public spaces. Read the local news. Get involved and work for the change you desire. Being a hater and cynic will eat your soul. Being clueless or apathetic gives the power to others.
Go outside and disengage from the grid. Find your natural self. Be quiet.
Find a release for your creativity, whether it's music, art, photography, or writing something that fills a column space each week.