I’ve never been asked to address a graduating class during a ceremony and I’m sure the graduates and attendees are the better for it. Then again, I’ve wondered what I would tell them that wasn’t clichéd or worn out. I still wonder that, but circumstances recently have caused me to reflect a bit on the definition of a life well lived. So here’s the graduation speech I’ve never given but probably would if given the chance:
As I stand before you fresh-faced young men and women with sparkling eyes and dreams of what the future holds, I can only tell you some simple things to always keep in your mind as you journey forward. You’re departing on a path many others have traveled but rarely – if ever – are they the exact same, so you have to blaze your own trail.
What’s happened in the past – good or bad – is behind you and now is the perfect time to recalculate a course that will lead you to something special. By special I’m not talking about riches or fame. I’m not talking about some unrealistic expectation that all in life will be rosy, because that just doesn’t happen. But what it does mean is that when you make final accountings of your life you can look back and feel satisfied that your life was not wasted on peripheral things that mean little in the long run. It does mean that you’ve built a life full of richness and happiness, and that’s what’s it’s all about.
Life is a collection of experiences and not all of them are good. Some are fantastic, though, and hopefully the good outweigh the bad. But make no mistake, the bad experiences also keep us grounded and teach us invaluable lessons that enhance the wonderful ones.
Always seek new adventures, even when they are scary. Perhaps you won’t enjoy it, but you’ll never know until you dip your toe in to see. Often the unexpected things will bring you the most joy, or at least introduce you to something else that will. Fearing the unknown to the point of shutting it out is big mistake because of all the things you miss.
Of course, what I’m saying doesn’t mean you should make stupid choices just to experience something. Common sense is required, as always, but if it piques your interest, do it, enjoy it and don’t look back. You never know where it might lead.
Follow your moral compass. Always ask yourself if what you’re doing is the right thing. You’ll make mistakes, of course, but you’ll know deep down that you made decisions believing what you were doing was not harming others and that, in fact, it is helping – even if it’s just enriching your own life in some way.
Stay out of debt, and I don’t mean just financial debt, although that’s also great advice. Debt comes in many forms and it doesn’t always deal with money. Are you taking more than you’re giving? Are you paying your blessings forward in some way, even when you don’t always feel so blessed? This doesn’t always require breaking out the checkbook. It’s about doing good deeds, often unseen by others, but knowing in your heart you tried to do something to help someone else, even if it’s just to make them smile.
Most importantly, enjoy life. Enjoy the time spent with family and friends. You never get it back in the long run, so don’t miss opportunities to cherish the time you have with them. Sooner or later they will be gone or miles will separate you. Those memories are invaluable and this requires that you knew joy and shared it with others when you had the opportunity.
We’re all flawed in various ways and it’s impossible to have a life that’s perfect, but when you look back in your later years most of the bad things have fallen away and it’s the good ones that stand out. Just make sure you build and collect lots of positive memories and experiences for this future accounting of your life. If you do, you’ll think to yourself, all in all, mine was a life well lived. If you have that, well, you’ve succeeded.
Richard Hensley is editor of Highlands Today. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.