This weekend high schools throughout East Texas and colleges throughout our nation will hold commencement ceremonies, as yet another graduating class prepares to take their talents to the next level in education, vocation, and life itself.
A graduation ceremony also affords well-intentioned blowhards like myself an opportunity to tell yet another bright-eyed and bushy-tailed generation bent on world conquest, wealth, and fame about all the struggles and failures waiting for them just around the next bend. That, or they pump enough sunshine to make a desert out of a rainforest. Either way, you’re still stuck listening to some tiresome old windbag hold court until the men in the audience start looking at their watches and the ladies start fanning themselves with the program.
But I want to take advantage of this moment to offer a few of my own “pearls of wisdom” gleaned in the years since I left the classroom and joined the workforce full-time. Hopefully you’ll take this advice for what it is, and maybe it’ll even help save some of you some unnecessary frustration later. At any rate, the least you could do is hear me out. I’ve got some years on me and I think I’ve learned a little.
First and foremost: keep an even keel. The idiom “keep an even keel” is a nautical phrase which means, “don’t rock the boat.” Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not telling you to avoid challenging the status quo (quite the contrary!) but do strive for balance in your life.
Many of you face an inordinate number of possibilities and career/life paths you can take, such that you may feel overwhelmed and fearful of striving off in any one direction… for the sake of keeping your options open. Well, I’m 35 years old, married with five children, and I’m here to tell you that, even now, I could suddenly change careers and take another life path if I so chose. I could do so easily and never look back. Such is the great abundance of this manifest destiny.
In the 17 years since I last walked through the doors of Overton High School, I’ve held numerous jobs, lived in several different states, moved to a completely different part of the country, and pursued no less than five different college majors. Granted, this meandering bildungsroman has led me to a job with the Henderson Daily News, so I leave it up to you if my path was one you wish to emulate.
The point is: there’s always a choice.
Good heavens, if you’re reading this then you’ve practically “won the lottery” existentially speaking! You are probably American, a Texan, and from either the high or low end of the suburban middle class… this puts you among the Top 10 percent wealthiest people in the entire world. Relish your good fortune, and thank God for it, for many on our planet are not so blessed!
Do you want to make a million dollars before you’re thirty years old? Easy enough. Go into finance, make really good grades, and work on Wall Street. Or if you want to stay closer to home you can always study something having to do with oilfield exploration. With the ongoing advances being made in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) I’d wager there’s considerable money to be made in harvesting the shales in the years to come.
Do you want to make a difference in the world? Again, easily done. Go into education and become a teacher. You’ll never make much money but, if you’re good at it, you’ll have a tremendous impact on generations of young people. Though I haven’t sat in a classroom for a while, I still remember the handful of educators who tried so valiantly to teach me how to understand the world around me.
Do you want to take some time off and “find yourself” for a couple years. That’s okay too. When my high school years were over I fled my hometown like a man making a jailbreak, all the way to the complete other side of the country. Did it work out? Not really. Eventually I found my way back home. Other attempts were soon to follow. Few were successful but all of them were educational. So I would also encourage you not to waste too much time on something as vague as “finding yourself” because there’s plenty of other things you can be working on while you’re waiting for that to happen.
If you must “tarry in the trade winds” for a season, at least find a way to be constructive while doing so. Develop yourself, your mind and spirit as well as your physical health. Travel far and wide, packing light and experiencing different cultures than those you’ve known. Read books that challenge you. Broaden your horizons. Work jobs that are thankless but are a service to others. Do things that are hard and push you outside your comfort zone. I’ve found these sorts of things have a way of helping you find the direction you want your life to take.
You might also find it helpful to drop off the map for a time.
I know you young whippersnappers were practically weaned on the Internet, and cut your teeth on social networks, but ‘back in my day’ when we left school it was somewhat routine to blow town and get a little crazy. I thank the good Lord there was no such thing as Twitter or Facebook back then because I’d never live down that night in Deep Ellum back in ’98 or the six months I walked around with my hair dyed a shocking shade of punk rock blue.
So maybe it’ll do you some good to take yourself off the grid for a time and act on some of your foolish impulses while you’re still young enough to hide behind the folly of youth. By the time you’re my age such deeds can and will be used against you in a court of law, especially if you’re daft enough to take photographs and post them online.
You and that high school girlfriend of yours may very well drift apart, or maybe you’ll stay together. That perfect couple that everyone knows may split up after only a couple years of marriage. That geeky space cadet might make a million dollars in the computer field. Maybe you’ll become a lawyer, or maybe you’ll flunk out your first semester.
But if Hollywood movies are any indication, people tend to turn out in ways that are either comically paradoxical or cruelly ironic.
Either way, the more things change the more they stay the same. I know it’s a tired old cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less true.
In closing, I want to both encourage and chasten you.
Whatever your religious inclination, I strongly encourage you to consider the matter heavily during this time of your life. During these halcyon years you’ll have far more spare time than you likely ever have in your 20s and 30s. Take this time to seek out what you believe and why. Don’t trivialize this aspect of your life any more than you would neglect to brush your teeth after meals or wear sunscreen before heading to the beach.
Your actions have consequences, both in this world and the next. Whether you consider Him so or not, you live in a universe fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving and holy Creator. Everything you have, was first given.
As I said before, if you’re reading this then you are the beneficiaries of such great promise and blessed in ways you cannot possibly imagine at this point in your young lives. You abide in a time of such affluence as the world has scarcely seen.
Do not squander what you have been so undeservedly given but look upon it as an inheritance still to be earned. You’ll never be able to truly “earn” or “deserve” it but you must still try.
You have so many who want you to achieve great things and so few hindering your steps, thus you have every reason to succeed and little excuse to fail.
I wish you well.