To those of you graduating from high school this spring, here is some advice:
When Maureen Stapleton won an Oscar in 1982, she immortalized her acceptance speech by stating that she wanted to thank everyone she’d ever met in her entire life. You should do that now.
Thank every friend you ever had and every classmate who made you cry. Thank the teachers you loved and the ones you dreaded. Thank the coaches who inspired you and the ones who scared you silly. Thank your family, however that community of people who uniquely love you is defined.
Thank yourself. You assembled the building blocks nature and nurture have handed you. You applied lessons about sharing to lessons about friendship and teamwork. You braved riding the bus for the first time just like you braved attending a dance for the first time. You triumphed over multiplication tables and then you triumphed over the periodic table. It takes a village, but you were the one busy being raised.
Good for you.
Now, survey the foundation you have built. Its nooks and crannies are about to be exposed. Rely on the concrete, monitor the cracks.
For many of you, graduating from high school means that you’re about to leave home in a way you never have before. Your tethers are being extended, and checkpoints are being situated at greater distances.
You’re responsible for yourself now more than ever. With that responsibility comes great freedom. You are the person you need to ask first.
Indulge in it.
Sleep in. It won’t drive your roommate crazy like it does your parents. Have cereal for dinner. It is delicious. Wear pajamas around campus. No one will notice.
Take advantage of it.
Sign up for interesting classes. Volunteer to do something you care about. Learn a new skill. If you have the chance to study abroad, do it, or I’ll come find you and take you there myself.
Your decisions have consequences. Whatever permissions you are afforded are directly tied to the trust being placed in you. The most important thing you’re being asked to learn is to like yourself more than you do right now.
The surest way to like yourself more is to ask more of yourself. Be more humble. Be more thoughtful. Be more generous.
You can also travel with less baggage. Be less cavalier. Be less shallow. Be less scared.
Value the opportunities life hands you. When you make mistakes, acknowledge them. When you have a choice, recognize that it’s yours.
When your mother calls, answer the phone.
Never do anything to excess. Never judge. Only say never when you mean it.
Always say what you mean. Always try. Always practice accepting the truth that you are enough.
Take comfort in the fact that you are never stuck. If you don’t like wherever you land next, figure out why you don’t like it, and then go somewhere else. Apologies work. So does a sense of humor. Tomorrow really is another day, every time.
Ask for help. You’ll need it. Accept it. We’ll give it to you.
Don’t go for jogs alone at night. You probably don’t need the full meal plan. Do your own laundry. Study. Go out for dinner with 11 friends and split the check 12 ways. Never do that again. Remember that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and the Internet means never having to say “no, I didn’t see that.”
Now, close your eyes.
Picture an NFL team gathered in the tunnel under the stadium. Peer out at the flame-throwers and fireworks, the flags and cheerleaders. Feel the electricity of the frenzied crowd and the adrenaline of your teammates. Watch yourself running down the chute, hear your name booming from a loudspeaker.
Open your eyes.
Allow me to welcome you to the big dance. Here you are, ready to be announced into your starting position. Everything that’s been drilled into you, ritualized and habitualized, inherent and learned, is primed to be put into practice.
There’s no feeling like it in the world.