Tag Archives: graduation

class of 2016

Celebrate Me Home, Class of 2016.

By: Chris Warren.

You’ve spent years preparing for this day. The sum of all the hard work, all the achievements, all the failures, every moment, is right now. The class of 2016 will carry the lessons learned here for the rest of their lives. No matter where you go, you will have a connection to this place. Carry that connection with honor.

Many of you are anxious to get out of here and go chase some far away, exciting goal. That’s understandable and I encourage you to do exactly that. The class of 2016 has the potential for greatness and needs to get out and experience new things. There will always be supporters in your hometown praying and hoping for your success. They know you. They know what you are capable of. They do not want you constrained. They want the whole world to see what they see in you.

You may not believe it right now, but when the class of 2016 is far away in time or place, the memories of the years you spent here will be a comfort in difficult times. Even if your life was hard and painful up to this point, it will still be a positive guiding force later and make you strong for when troubled times come again. And they will come again.

Your connection to this place helped make you what you are. For better or worse, it is the foundation for the rest of your life. From this point forward, the class of 2016 is responsible for building something meaningful upon that foundation. You are hereby released from the rules that you felt were holding you back but were really there to help you grow and mature. This is your big chance to use your good judgement and show everyone what you can do with your own wisdom. Whatever happens after today is to your credit, or your fault.

The day will come when it’s your turn to do the guiding and protecting. You will be hoping for the next generation the way your elders hope for you now. You will be the foundation that others will build on. What kind of foundation will it be? Will you try as hard to help them as your parents and teachers and entire community did to help you?

Do not say that helping the younger generation is not your responsibility. It’s important that you help them because, even if they are not your children, they will be taking over someday. Your duty to the next generation is not because of tradition or civil legislation, though these mandates do exist. You should help them out of your own free will  because it’s the decent and right thing to do.

The class of 2016 is wise enough to see that kindness is the only valid reason to do good works. You will be held accountable for how you apply the kindness you learned here to others in the future. By showing compassion to others, the class of 2016 is in effect “going home,” that is, passing on what you learned here. Honor your elders by following them down a path of selflessness.

A path of selflessness always leads to home, and I do not mean a physical place. I mean a state of mind where one knows who they are. Home is being at peace with oneself and feeling affirmed that you contributed something positive to the world and lived a life of benevolence. It means you know in your heart you did as much as you could to make the world better.

Decades from now, when you have accomplished much and can’t count how many people whose lives are better because of you, you’ll be confident that the younger generation will carry on where you leave off because you taught them everything they need to know about love and decency. When they will follow you on that path of selflessness, you, the class of 2016, will ascend to the place of honor that your elders hold now. You can look at your grandchildren and great-grandchildren and tell them, “celebrate me home.”

gratitude

Fifteen Square Inches Of Gratitude.

By: Chris Warren

On the way in from work I stopped my motorcycle at the mailbox to grab whatever crap the Postal Service is supporting itself with these days. At least 90% of the mail I get I would not know the difference if it never arrived. The other 10% is a bill or something that will evolve into a lot of hassles if I blow it off. The mail seldom brings lasting gratitude; today was the rare exception.

Mixed into this otherwise typically disappointing delivery was a small envelope. I knew right away what it was. My “adopted” nephew James, whom I have written about before in this blog, sent a thank you card for the high school graduation gift I gave him. I was getting a good vibe before I even opened it. I really care about this kid and since he was born I have not passed on a chance to let him know it.

Let’s be honest: When it comes to gratitude, we can’t expect too much from guys his age. It’s just part of being eighteen. It’s not an excuse or a defense; I’m only saying that I understand the mindset. Back in my young days I wasn’t exactly gushing with appreciation for all the things my elders did for me either. That I received an actual physical card at all puts James well ahead of my formerly adolescent self.

James fulfilled his portion of a basic personal courtesy. Had it ended there I would have been completely satisfied, but he also included a lengthy handwritten note of gratitude to me for always being there for him. He filled up almost the whole inside of the small card telling me how cool I was and how much I meant to him. I always knew he respected and looked up to me but had never seen it in his own words; moments like this are my reward for giving a damn.

People who are true of heart do not do nice things for others with the expectation of bringing attention to themselves. In other words, if all you’re looking for is adulation for a good deed, then maybe you are doing the good deed for the wrong reasons. At the same time, no one wants to go totally unnoticed either.

Gratitude is the mechanism used to resolve this conflict. Most people expect to be thanked as a matter of social convention. I don’t see it that way and I know I’m in the minority. Gifts and favors are (supposed to be) a freewill gesture, so too is being grateful for them. I’ll thank those who are good to me but I’m not offended when someone does not send a written thank you for something I’ve done for them, even though I’m extra happy when they do. I already have the warm feeling of knowing I did a good deed. Anything beyond that is a bonus. Being kind to others has no net negative.

That brings me back to the simple lesson in James’ card. My thank you is knowing I played a small part in helping him become an amazing person. His putting it in writing was the bonus. I’m going to keep that card always because it reflects the sentiments of a young kid who thinks of me as a favorite uncle. I didn’t need to be told where I stand with James, nor did he need to say anything out of some concern that I was unaware of what he thought about me. The beauty of this transaction is that gratitude turns a good deed into a two way street, and that’s more than good enough for me.

The Class of 2015: Let Your Love Bind You To All Living Things.

Editor’s note: You may also enjoy last year’s graduation article, Graduation Completes The Circle. 

By: Chris Warren.

More than just recognition for academic achievement, graduation is a celebration, a joy, and a time for release after having completed a difficult years-long task. It’s a time of excitement and dreams. A time to behold the great things that come next and the doors that are opened. Beyond the honors and knowledge, the big hope is that graduates will understand that what really changes the world is a concern for others.

People who are intellectually brilliant but look out only for themselves are dangerous and seldom use their abilities for anything positive. Being smart is only half the equation. One also needs a good heart and a sense of right and wrong. Your education gives your heart something to do; whether that “something” is good or bad depends on what was in your heart in the first place. Love for others binds you to others. That is why those who love only themselves have so little concern for others. They are attached to no one and therefore have no reason to care about anyone. Even when they do good works, it’s with the ulterior motive of elevating themselves.

One does not have to be exceptionally intelligent to make a difference. Yes, society needs smart people to cure diseases, launch rockets, and solve great problems, but the everyday normal people who quietly do small things we’ll never see in headlines count too. The food banks, the elderly, the disabled veterans, single parents, and the unemployed all need the kind of help that does not come from book learning. You don’t need a four year college degree to put your hand on someone’s shoulder and tell them you care. Effective love does not require a grade transcript or a resumé.

As the class of 2015 goes its separate ways, compassion, concern, and love for life should be the common theme that keeps their souls together no matter how far apart they go in time and place. Many things in their lives will change, but hearts stay the same. If they spend the rest of their years looking for ways to use what they know to benefit others, regardless of benefit to self, then their educations have been a huge success.

Diplomas and degrees don’t mean much if your mind is full but your heart is empty.

The teachers of the class of 2015 will likely never know what eventually becomes of the students they gently tended like a garden. It makes them feel good to see their students graduate, but letting students go is hard to do even when it was understood that letting them go was the the point of teaching them to begin with. A teacher knows that commencement is a synonym for beginning. Just as the pain of saying goodbye repeats itself every single year, so too is the joy of being given a fresh class of students to watch over and guide along. A teacher is an artist who never gets to see his own finished masterpiece.

The most important lesson the class of 2015 should leave with is that diplomas and degrees don’t mean much if your mind is full but your heart is empty. You have been watched out for, helped, protected, and loved for your entire educational experience. The hour has arrived for you to go out and multiply unto others the kindness you have received yourselves. At times the job will be difficult, perhaps hopeless, yet the moment will come when you see that your elders were right the whole time. Love has a value much greater than the pain spent achieving it. Show the world that true wisdom is equal parts knowledge and compassion. You have been given all the tools you need. You know right from wrong. You have no excuses. Go proudly forward and let your love bind you to all living things.

1_graduation_guy_3

Graduation’s Greatest Hits?

By Chris Warren.

In the next month or two, high school and college seniors will be graduating and moving forward with their lives. The well intended commencement speeches typically include a list of pithy if not outright condescending advice for the graduates. It’s not too late for those who have been asked to give these speeches to carefully edit themselves and avoid patronizing clichés. The list could go on for pages and pages, but here are a few of the “greatest hits” to be avoided for all time:

Do what you love and the money will follow. This is at the top of my list as the biggest heap o’graduation shit that has ever been spoken. Any activity you are passionate about but can’t support yourself with is called a hobby. There is no cosmic law that states anyone can make money doing anything if only they love doing it enough. Since life is not a one way street, those who insist on believing this ridiculous idealism must also accept with it the equally foolish converse argument: One cannot earn a living doing something they hate. I’m going to settle this nonsense with some easily quantifiable earthly reality: There are tens of millions more people toiling away at barely tolerable but reasonably well paying occupations than there are making a decent buck at their dream job. Acceptable alternative advice: If you love something that much, the money (or lack of it) won’t matter.redstone

Be yourself. I don’t get this one. How can you not “be yourself?” Taken to its ultimate conclusion, this lame pop psychology narcissism is just another excuse for every individual to think the world must form around them. But the world is full of uncomfortable circumstances where you might have to be polite when you don’t mean it, be supportive when inside you don’t agree, or be cooperative with people you think are incompetent. Those who are dishonest or fake about who they are are being themselves. Cheerfully going along with something you don’t like for diplomatic reasons or to attain a legitimate goal is not the same as willfully involving oneself in objectionable, immoral, or illegal activities. Acceptable alternative advice: Acting is an important life skill; learn to adapt your outward behavior to any situation even if it means being insincere.

Think outside the box. This tiresome business buzzword has leaked into academia and is the only point on the list that sort-of comes close to being useful wisdom. Unfortunately, it has evolved into a catch all vindication for dumb ideas and dead end personal goals. Thinking outside the box works best for older people who have learned from prior successes and failures and have enough restraint to know how far they can go. Less discerning young people are inclined to be different just for the sake of being different with no clear end game other than to clash with tradition. The “box” existed as long as it has for a reason. Some things just plain work and do not need to be challenged. Acceptable alternative advice: Thinking outside the box is fine, but only if the method used is better than what is already in the box.

By time young people reach graduation, they have spent many years exposed to a wide range of viewpoints from the internet and are far more adept at spotting a recycled idea than us older types were at their age. They are too smart to fall for dusted off hollow maxims that are accurate to a limited degree but have no mass appeal to today’s graduates and do not work for 99% of the people who try them. The opportunity to effect the lives of young people is very fleeting; commencement speakers should not waste the few minutes they have spreading unrelatable one-liners that at best are poorly chosen, and at worst full blown lies.

The Tragedy and Comedy of Senior Summer.

By: Chris Warren.

The fun and fireworks of Fourth of July celebrations are long fizzled out and I count myself among the many who are not ready to admit the unofficial end of summer is only a month away. As the ubiquitous back to school advertisements foretell, yes, the calendar always gets its revenge. It’s the cycle of life we grow accustom to even if we don’t necessarily like it.

For last spring’s high school graduates, it’s much more than a perennial change of the season. It’s their dwindling days of having a legitimate claim to childhood, of not having to worry about anything serious, of living under the close protective cloak of parents and teachers. Within the next few weeks, their lives will change abruptly and things will never be the same. They’ve just completed a major life goal; I can’t really blame them for wanting to party, cut loose, and not give a damn about anything for a month or two.

I refer to the summer after high school graduation as “Senior Summer.” It occurs only once in a lifetime and is both a carefree joy and a sad, long goodbye as friends who have known each other for years and together shared many important experiences drift apart and go their separate ways to college, the military, a job, or mom’s basement. Sincere albeit naïve platitudes of keeping in touch will be offered and accepted, but it’s not going to be anything like the halcyon final scene of the classic hit musical Grease, when the kids graduate and begin their Senior Summer by happily singing about how they’ll “always” be together. The places and people that our young lives revolved around for four years quickly become just photos in a yearbook.

Years ago I had an occasion to stop by my old high school during my own Senior Summer to drop off a library book I forgot I still had. Being summer break, the place was empty and kind of creepy. Even though I knew the physical layout of the building in great detail, an odd feeling nonetheless came over me: “I don’t belong here. Naperville North isn’t my house anymore.” The school where I felt welcome and comfortable as a student walking the bustling halls laughing with my friends just a month or so earlier now made me feel like I was wandering around a stark alien spaceship. I just wanted to finish my business and get out of there. It felt terrible having an aversion to a place that was such a big part of my life and held many warm memories, but I knew I had checked out and moved on.

The emotional pain of leaving a familiar sphere of faces and places does have a big upside: As much as it may upset young people to let go of the only world they know, the opportunity for new and exciting experiences is breathtaking. The errand to drop off the library book was my reality check. It unnerved me at the time, but summer is fleeting and that fall I started college. I had a chance to study topics I liked and not what was chosen for me. In what can only be described as an amazing case of being in the right place at the right time, I applied and was hired for a job at a popular radio station. I had zero experience but it turns out I was a natural for yapping on the radio. No one was more shocked than me when my weekend/overnight program pulled in more listeners than some of the prime-time big shots. New friends, new school, and a new job that was a hundred times cooler than whatever my peers were doing to make a buck. All this happened less than a year out from graduation.

front-of-school

Teens going through their Senior Summer and feeling equal amounts of pain and joy have a difficult time grasping the idea that there is a big, inviting world out there just dying to meet them and give them a chance to make a difference with their fresh ideas. Like nearly all who came before, they will ultimately navigate through the churn of heavy feelings and doubt and learn that leaving the cocoon of high school –even if they don’t think they can handle it– has a higher purpose. It’s an essential part of the self discovery process.

This past weekend I went to visit my adopted niece because she is going off to college in a few weeks and I don’t expect to see her again before Christmas. I’ve known this young lady since she was born and I could sense her worry. “Chris, I’m so nervous about this,” she admitted, nearly in tears as she hugged me tightly. I said the only thing I could think of, unrehearsed from the heart. “You’re going to have a great time and amaze yourself and everyone with all the good you are capable of.” That wasn’t me saying something insincere just to be polite. I really do believe in her, maybe more than she believes in herself at the moment. Next year will be her brother’s turn. He is a highly motivated, dynamic kid and I’m certain he too will do very impressive things once he is freed from the limitations of high school.

It hurts to watch young people stress out over things we older and wiser folks know will pass, but there are some situations we cannot or should not bail kids out of. All we can do is smile and understand and assure them that joy and pain often come as a matched set. In my June 17, 2014 article I mentioned that the greatest trait of strong people is they know they are loved. It’s the most powerful and important feeling we can impart on our kids when we launch them into the world as brand new adults to figure out for themselves that the end of Senior Summer is the beginning of a bright and promising future .

comedy-tragedy-theatre.jpg.pagespeed.ce.mb7wzS84XI

 

 

Graduation Completes The Circle.

By: Chris Warren

Almost every commencement address has the same basic theme: You (graduates) are bright and energetic and will change the world. You have vast opportunities; all you need to do is go and get them. Work hard, get good grades, and success will be yours! The theme is trite and shopworn, but since most of us will hear it only once or twice and at a time when we are excited about completing a big life achievement, no one really knows or cares that it’s been recycled every year for generations.

In fairness to all the cliché artists who are recruited to deliver these hand-me-down nuggets of wisdom, for the last seven decades or so the advice was accurate. It really was true that hard work and serious study was an express ticket to the good life. If a solid job and home ownership is the “American dream,” then a good education is its mother.

It may be for the better that I haven’t been asked to give a graduation speech, because I do not think I could bring myself to stand in front of impressionable young people and feed them a heap o’crap about how hard work and dedication will see them through. The old perennial platitudes are broken. A weak economy and languishing morals means many opportunities that used to be there are gone. There are people with Master’s degrees working at Taco Bell. Where is the big payoff for all their sweat? The world for young people, in a word, sucks.

But this is the Thoughtful, Positive, Relevant blog, so for my hypothetical speech I am determined to come up with something that is affirming, uplifting, and truthful. I won’t be placed in a position where in order to be the best graduation speaker ever I’d also have to be the best liar. It’s very unkind to piss on the hopes and dreams of young people at such a meaningful moment in their life; it’s also wrong to tell a complete lie in deference to their big day. I think I’ve found a way around this untenable situation.

To the Class of 2014:

For your entire lives you have been taught that brains and sweat will take you far. That is still true, except now you will need more brains and more sweat than anyone who came before you to get what used to be considered a standard middle class existence. The average will need to become stronger, and the strong will need to become superlative. The weak are doomed, but not because of the new way the world works. The weak are and always have been doomed no matter what state the world is in. That may be the only thing that never changes.

The fact that you are here at this time and place proves you are not weak. The weak have already quit and left this group. So the question now is not “who among you are weak?” but, “how strong are you?”

Strong people know the difference between confidence and arrogance: The strong know what they are capable of and do not need constant praise. Weak people must always be the topic of conversation, making sure everyone knows they are the smartest person in the room (even if they aren’t).  Strong people know they might be the smartest person in the room, but conduct themselves with a subtle touch of class that needs no big pronouncement and lets the room figure out on their own who is the smartest. Weak people brag about themselves; strong people quietly step aside and let others do the bragging for them.

Strong people are kind even to those who do not deserve it: This might be the hardest part of being a strong person. Being nice to those who are nice to us is easy, even pleasurable. It’s a much different matter when dealing with someone who would be in a lot of trouble if instant karma was real. Weak people think of themselves as judge and jury of all behavior and seek revenge for every little slight committed against them. Strong people choose their battles carefully and do unto others as they would have done unto them, accepting with grace that they will often be forced by their principles to give others a better deal than they received in return.

“And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game “

-Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

Sunrise-From-Space

Strong people are grateful for where they came from: No one was born knowing everything, and almost no one succeeds as a solo act. Every one of us was helped and guided by others. Weak people assure their own failure by thinking they can do everything themselves. Strong people succeed because they humbly accept help from those who love and care about them and are going to invest heart and soul into steering them away from failure. There is no greater feeling than having someone behind you and believing in you. Knowing they are loved is the greatest trait of strong people.

There is still much to be hopeful for among all the sadness in the world. New graduates are a clean slate, not yet jaded by the experiences of life. Every new graduation class is God’s way of telling humanity, “This is your do-over. Let these people run the place.” As long the Almighty keeps blessing us with fresh graduates every spring as reliably as blooming flowers, there will always be a possibility that things will get better. That brings me to my last point:

Strong people are grateful for where they are going. We should not overlook that gratitude is a two way street. If graduates are expected be thankful for the wisdom of those who helped them, we older folks also need to thank the young for the bright hope that they will do better than their elders. Weak people believe they will always be ageless and relevant. Strong people know the day will come when their moment in the sun and way of doing things will be over. It will be time for the circle to complete and let the future go to the next generation. We can only pray that our love for them mattered.

(photo credit: http://wholles.com)