It is the season of commencements, of graduations and movings-on. The time of the year when we gather to wish graduates the best and express our pride in their accomplishments as well as our hope in their future. Over the years, I've attended a number of commencement exercises and I've had a little speech that I wish I could give. So, here it is.
Dear Graduates, Faculty, Parents, Honored Guests:
Today we are celebrating the fact that you are graduating, moving on. It is appropriate that we do so because you have worked hard to get to this point. But I would like to make an important distinction. Today, we are not celebrating you. By that, I mean that we are not celebrating you just because you are wonderful and deserve a ceremony and party. Rather, we are celebrating your choices. You made choices that brought you here today. You worked and struggled and acheived. Had you not made those choices, had you not done the work, you would not be here.
I make this point because it is an important one for your future happiness and well-being. It is easy when we are young to think the world revolves around us. We think this because, in many ways, it is true. If we are blessed, then we have parents who take care of us, who order their lives in such a way as to see that our needs and wants are met and fulfilled. If we are blessed, then we have gone to a school where our needs are addressed. Skilled teachers and other specialists have spent untold hours trying to figure out how to make content appealing to us. They have worked to interest us, to excite us about learning and to help us master a skill or content.
But it is important to understand that teachers and parents do this because they love us and because it is their job. It is why they exist.
The rest of the world, however, is very different. The older you get, the less you will be rewarded simply because you are wonderful, a unique individual. The older you get, the fewer trophies there will be for coming in fifth or fourth. Or even third. The older you get, there will be a sharp decrease in the number of people who order their life around you. In fact, you will be one of those who is expected to order your life around others. Remember this: after today, it's not about you. To the extent you think it is and try to make it so, you will be unhappy and will squander your precious energy. It's really not about you.
This is not a bad thing. Not at all. To the contrary. You will find that real happiness in life comes from sacrificing your own wants to make someone else happy. You will find that real happiness in life comes from investing yourself in relationships and taking care of other people more than you worry about yourself.
You will find that lasting satisfaction is linked inextricably to what you earn and achieve, not what you are given. You will find that there are fundamental laws of nature that cannot be overturned, no matter how much you smile, give puppy-dog looks, or even cry. Work will bring rewards that nothing else will. Real success and meaningful achievement must be earned.
The longer you live, what you meant to do will often matter less than what you did. You will be judged on your actions and not your motives.
Life will not be fair. Don't waste your energy complaining about that. Life will be hard. Don't be surprised when it is difficult beyond anything you imagined. There will be times when your dreams seem to fade to ash, when your heart feels like it will be wrenched from your chest, and when you don't think you'll ever be happy again.
While your situation is unique, these feelings are not. These are the common lot of humanity, and they are often the motivating factors that push us to change our lives--and sometimes the world around us.
Don't be afraid of hard work. Be afraid of laziness and entitlement. Don't be afraid of failure. Be afraid to never try. Don't be afraid of sadness and hurt. Be afraid not to care. Don't be afraid of making sacrifices. Be afraid of having nothing worth sacrificing for. Don't be afraid of being overshadowed by others who are brighter, faster, or better at whatever. Be afraid of not pushing yourself. Don't be afraid of not achieving as much as someone else. Be afraid of not achieving all you can--and be very, very afraid of jealousy and envy. These two traits will conspire to make sure you never have a happy day for the rest of your life.
Learn to listen to people who are older and wiser than you. It is a fairly recent conceit to honor young people for nothing more than being young and not as slow, fat, and tired as the rest of us. For thousands of years, humans were solicitous of and attentive to their elders--those who had walked the same paths and climbed the same mountains and lived to tell about it.
As most of us get older, we realize our parents were right about 95% of what they told us. We realize that the other 5% really didn't matter all that much.
Life can be good. It can be very good--beautiful, enriching, and ennobling. You can be happy even in imperfect circumstances. Your futures can be bright without them being perfect. You can be happy without having everything you want. You can be successful in spite of challenges and failures.
Don't try to avoid the storms. Learn to ride them out. Don't expend your energy trying to get around the eternal verities of life. Learn how to work with them. Don't seek the easy way--grow strong enough to take the road is it, not how you wish it would be. Life if the best preparation for life. Don't wish it away. Savor it. Love your family. Work hard. Hang on when it gets rough.
It will get better. And you will too.
Good luck and may God bless you.
The night before I left on my mission (which, for those who may not know is something that young men and women do in the Mormon church. Between the ages of 19-25, you leave your home and family for 2 years and go teach the gospel of Jesus Christ), there was a terrific thunderstorm. I stood out on my front porch and watched the lightning flash over the Great Salt Lake. It was a stunning display of nature's power and I remember feeling quite awed by it. I believe I sang a few verses of "How Great Thou Art" to the accompaniment of the rolling thunder as the Lord's power was displayed.
I know everyone in the world LOVES that song, and so, being the contrarian I am, I'm reluctant to say that I love it, too. But I do. Actually, I don't really like the whole song that much, but I love the line, "Then sings my soul." That is a wonderful lyric and it expresses perfectly a feeling that comes over me from time to time--a feeling of peace and well-being, a feeling of a full measure of joy that goes beyond simply being happy and infuses every bit of my soul.
One of the unique teachings of the Church is that the soul is not a synonym for the spirit, but that the soul is the spirit and the body combined. I like that idea for many reasons, but one of which is that it is different from the idea that the body is evil and needs to be loathed and mistrusted.
I love that idea because it is often through my physical senses that my spirit is taken to the heights that lead my soul to sing.
I'm sitting in the crisp, cool evening--an evening that is all you would want a September evening to be. I'm watching the sunset over the trees in the forest that abut my backyard. I'm watching my children play, accompanied by the birds singing good night and the crickets and frogs just starting their conversations.
I think of where we lived ten years ago--in a tiny apartment on a dirty, smelly street in Brooklyn. The walls of our apartment were thin and we could hear our neighbors alternating between fights and parties. I rode the bus and train for hours and hours a day to work and then to school.
It was a lot of work to get here--and it is a lot of work to stay where we are. But the Lord is good. The crickets sound crisper and the stars in the sky gleam brighter because we had to work so hard and wait so long to have a house of our own. The fact that it's small doesn't seem burdensome, it just feels good to have our own home.
My soul is singing tonight, as moved by the peace and tranquility of a sunset as I was by the tumultuous storm so many years ago. I had no idea when I left home to go on a mission, what a difficult adventure my life would be. I had no idea the storms that would crash around me. We have not been spared our trials and difficulties, and there were moments when I cried out and asked why the Lord had forsaken me.
But I also had no idea how beautiful the calm of a fall evening would be. And that is reason for my soul to sing.
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