Every year, I try to prepare some thoughts for the graduating seniors. Some years there are tears, and other years there are unreserved sighs of relief. I would probably rewrite it if I had a chance to deliver it again, but here is the 5 minute classroom "commencement speech" I gave to my 2009 graduates:
In your life there is one choice you will make moment to moment. Many times it will not seem like much of a choice, but it is… The choice to be “present”, or not. Woody Allen said, “80% of life is showing up” and it’s true – just ‘being there’ is huge. Life is a game and you can’t play it virtually or by proxy. You can’t play it well with one eye on the game and one eye always checking what’s on the other side of the fence.
Your circumstances in life will always change and may or may not be under your control, but you can, to large extent, decide how you will respond to them. This is why, in any given situation, you will see a wide range of reactions. In a given class, there might be 5 or 6 students who are all very tired, yet some are “into it” and some have checked out. In line at the grocery store, one person will be angry at having to wait, and another will be totally fine about it – BOTH may be equally busy, equally stressed, equally inconvenienced, but one chose to be bothered and one chose not to.
YOU decide which way to go – it is your right to make a decision and your responsibility to manage consequences of the decisions you make. And just so it’s clear, NOT making a decision is a decision.
My other bit of advice is “have a purpose”. I can’t sit here and tell you this (or that) is your purpose now arise, go forth and conquer” – I can only tell you that you must find a higher purpose or you will very quickly find yourself in Dr. Seuss’ waiting place. Find something you enjoy and that is meaningful and then share it with the world. The world may or may not reward you for your efforts but, if you are good at sharing, you’ll get what you need and the process of sharing will be its own reward.
George Leonard wrote, “A human being is the kind of machine that wears out from lack of use. There are limits of course and we do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for the most part we gain energy by using energy. Often the best remedy for physical weariness is thirty minutes of aerobic exercise. In the same way, mental and spiritual lassitude is often cured by decisive action or the clear intention to act. We learn in high school that kinetic energy is measured in terms of motion. The same thing is true of human energy: it comes into existence through use. You can’t hoard it.” I know it's cliche to use football analogies, but no one gets good at football by sitting on the bench.
You have a choice to see reasons why something can’t be done; there will be many reasons to stop; many reasons to quit; many reasons why this or that won’t work. But, you ALSO have a choice to see what CAN be done; why you should continue; why it is all worthwhile; how you can make it work.
In school, in work, in relationships, we have the same choices. When confronted with uncomfortable circumstances, we can turn away or we can reach out. Choose to, as Captain Picard says to his crew “engage”, not disengage.
When you are sitting in your apartment, wondering if you should go to class and MAYBE learn something, or stay at home, order pizza, and play another game, choose to go to class.
When your significant other is nagging you AGAIN to make that phone call, or do this or that, you can choose to engage in the conversation and make it happen, or you can say “Yeah” and then go back to your television program. Choose to make things happen.
When you’ve had a long day at work and your “little guy” or “little girl” is tugging at your pant leg because they want to play. You can choose to not be bothered, or you can choose to be present. Choose to be there.
Choose complication in your life – it is what makes life challenging and rewarding. Do not choose boredom. Yes, that is a choice too. Choose to revel in your tasks. Choose.