As graduation season is upon us, allow me to share some baccalaureate remarks I had the privilege to deliver to a group of graduating high school seniors. Though it was delivered to 18-year-olds, I believe the messages ring true for us all, irrespective of our ages. Hope you agree….
Like many young Americans, when I was 18 years old, I graduated from high school and headed off to college. With a sense of independence, a bundle of trepidation and a lot of curiosity, I went to Smith College, a school in Massachusetts 2,000 miles away from home. Though those first few months were rather challenging as a result of a new environment, new people, missing my family and learning my way in the world, I look back now with only fond memories and think of those good ole days. Interestingly, the very first person I met in my dormitory remains one of my best friends to this day. She was from Boston. I remember getting access to well-known personalities like Holocaust Survivor and luminary Elie Wiesel, co-founder of Ms. Magazine Letty Cottin-Pogrebin, journalist Molly Ivins, and author and educator Jill Ker Conway who few people get access to in the real world. It was amazing and unwittingly exposed me to new ideas and concepts that enabled me to form thoughts and opinions of my own.
Then, when I was 22 years old, I graduated from college. Though I had never been to New York City before, I was offered a wonderful position as an investment banker with an institution then known as Chemical Bank. I was so proud of that job offer and told all of my friends. A wise friend, one year my junior, named Jaz, gave me a big hug and looked me in the eye. She said, “Alana, New York City is an incredible place. You will find the best and worst of everything. I hope you get the opportunity to experience everything.” Wow! What a statement.
Experience Everything. That is the mantra I wish to send each of you off with as you set out to be the people you are intended to be and become. That is true whether you intend to go to school 30 miles or 2,000 miles away from home, travel the world, take a job with a local coffee shop, start your own business or take courses online while you figure out what you want to do next.
Suffice it to say, it won’t always be easy. Like me, you will probably face some fear, be swept up in homesickness, feel, at once, both exhilarated and exhausted. But, my overriding hope for you is that you will see this as a great adventure! Take advantage of every opportunity. Explore your city. Travel the world. Ask questions. Attend lectures and events and parties and rallies and vigils. Meet people from places you’ve never been before.
College is also a time to build strong, meaningful relationships. Don’t prejudge, get to know your colleagues, be assertive and put yourself out there, be yourself. Be a friend, be thoughtful and caring. Know that you aren’t the only new student, everyone is having similar feelings as you. Don’t let your emotions hold you back.
Network. Get to know people outside your immediate circle of friends. This will become a very valuable skill set for you throughout your life. Get off your smartphone and ask someone new to meet for a drink (coffee). It doesn’t need to be a date, it’s an opportunity to get to know the person, what are their interests, what are they studying, what are they doing outside of class. It’s amazing what you can learn from other people and the value.
During your exploration, seek to discover who you are. Establish your purpose. Know that everything you experience, everything you do, whether in your personal life, your educational/professional life or your community life will prepare you for discovering your purpose. Focus your energy on gelling together all these parts of your life so you can pursue your mission relentlessly and without trepidation.
May you each go from strength to strength. May you enjoy every step of the journey. And, may you experience everything with enthusiasm and eager anticipation. Congratulations!