Congratulations, you made it.
In a few minutes, you will all come up on stage, receive your degree, stare out into the crowd in the direction of your family so their picture of you isn’t of the side of your head, and you will proceed to walk across the stage. This is an act so simple, yet so meaningful.
Your life has been building up to this moment since the first time you entered the fenced off kindergarten area when you were a young child. Most of you probably have a picture in a photo album of yourself on that momentous day. A big smile, fresh clothes, oversized backpack, and velcro shoes. That was your first day. Today is your last day. Instead of the fresh clothes and velcro shoes, you are reduced to a gown. Oh well, at least you retained the big smile.
You’re going to hear a lot of things from a lot of people today. Most of them will say congratulations and good luck. Some will ask to be in a picture with you. And some will simply say goodbye.
The one’s who say goodbye will probably be your friends. These are the people that were by your side through it all. You sat next to them in every class you had together and felt uncomfortable when you didn’t. You partied with them on thursday, friday, and saturday. You stayed up all night with them to do assignments, watch a television show, or just talk about life. They were more than friends, they were family. And as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. But now it’s time to go separate ways. All the memories you had together can never be replaced. They will be kept alive through stories that start with, “remember when…”
These friendships never have to end; they just won’t be the same. Knowing this, each and every one of you needs to make a conscience effort to stay in contact with your friends. Life is full of individual moments, but at it’s core, life is a team game. And the more people you have on your team, the happier you’ll be.
Now then, some of you probably have the next chapter of your life ready to go. All you need is for me to finish talking and you can turn the page. I get that. You have a job lined up and are ready to tackle the world head on. That’s excellent.
Then there are some of you who don’t know what’s next. You selfishly want this speech to go as long as it can because you’re already dreading the car ride home where you ponder your future by staring out a window at a highway full of impatient drivers.
I get it.
Up until this point, your life has followed a pattern. School, summer, school, summer, school, summer. Your summers were filled with a job that helped you pay for school and once the 4 months were up it was back to the classroom, sitting amongst your peers.
When you walk across this stage today it signals the end of that pattern. Yes, summer is ahead of you, but school isn’t. In September, you won’t be coming back. No more lectures. No more assignments. No more essays. No more procrastination. It may not hit you now, but let me know how you feel when the first week of September arrives and you’re not in a classroom writing out the date at the top of a sheet of paper.
If you have no idea what your future holds, that’s okay. You will figure it out. You know how I know that? Because ever since your first day of kindergarten, you have been figuring it out.
You have been trained to figure things out on your own for the past 18 years of your life. That is what school is. School is not answering questions 1-5 in the textbook and submitting them to the teacher the next day. No.
School is where you learned how to make friends and treat others. Where you learned how to play nice and share. Where you learned to treat everyone equally and not discriminate. Where you learned what interests you and what puts you to sleep. Where you learned how to learn. And where you learned how to be your own person, without your parents constantly by your side.
You will figure out. Chances are, deep down, you already have. You’ve always known. Look around at the people next to you. Look at your friends. Think of the program they took and the type of person they are. There’s a great chance that there is a direct correlation between the two. Everyone has arrived here today exactly the person they were meant to be. If you don’t believe that, then ask your friends. Because when you don’t believe in yourself, they will always believe in you. Listen to them. The doubt in your mind does not exist in theirs when they look at you and your potential. So trust them; they’re right.
You have all been given the tools to be successful. That doesn’t mean you will find your dream job tomorrow, or even a year from now. Don’t get discouraged when you see other people achieving their goals, while you are in bed watching Netflix and eating popcorn. Everyone’s life moves at a different pace. Never compare yourself to someone else, because if you’ve learned anything at all as a student, it should be that everyone is different.
So whether you sit out there with your life mapped out, or in shambles, just know that everything will work itself out eventually. Do what you love and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Ask your friends for advice, and take it. They will always be there for you if you let them, so let them.
My last piece of advice is this: never forget this place. Never forget the hallways you pushed your way through on a daily basis, or the long line you waited in every morning for coffee. Don’t forget all the things that you love about this place. This place is a big reason why you became the person that you are.
Although you might be leaving, a piece of you will always be here.
And this will always be home.
Congratulations, you made it.