Yesterday we attended my beautiful niece's college graduation from West Virginia University.
After arriving on Saturday, we were excited to share in her day and help her celebrate this major accomplishment in her life.
For the sake of her privacy, I won't post any recognizable photos of my niece, and to be honest, the lighting was so bad, and the size of the venue was so large, that I had to really crank my ISO up, so they weren't the best anyway.
Instead, I will share with you with the myriad of creative mortar boards donned by some of the graduates. There were more, but the shots either turned out blurry, or I just wasn't quick enough to get a good shot of the others.
The ceremony was lovely, well organized and not overly long, and you could feel how excited the graduates, their friends and families all were to be there, but there was one thing that wasn't perfect...the person who delivered the commencement address.
Now, I get it, we can't all have A list speakers at every University graduation, but wow, this person really missed the mark with their words. Instead of taking the opportunity to feed off of the enthusiasm, creativity, promise, and utter joy of this captive audience, the speaker chose to focus on their own lifetime accomplishments.
It was like listening to someone read their resume...and it was a LONG resume. Clearly, this individual had achieved much in their lifetime, was a contributor to our country, and seemed to love their own family, but I was so struck by how this person wasn't really interested in the reason they were actually there...what this occasion represented for these students...undergraduate, post grad, and doctoral students.
As I listened, I became more and more confused as to what this person was trying to convey, aside from the "hey, look what I've done," speech. Finally, after a very long winded and circuitous talk, he said something that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and I actually grabbed Mr. Tide's leg, as if to say...did he really just say what I think he said?!
This person, the one asked to address new graduates, people hungry to get out in our world and make a difference told them to NOT follow their dreams! Crazy, right?! I know, that's what I thought!
Now he didn't say it quite that way, but I'll try and loosely paraphrase what "I" heard...it went something like this.
Now, people may tell you that if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life...and if you do what you love the money will follow, but you can't always follow your dreams, you have to be realistic and you have to be able to make money to pay the bills at the end of each month.
Now, that is probably not in order of how he said it, and it's certainly not word for word, but holy crap...who says that to a graduating class?! And I don't care if you are graduating from kindergarten or getting your doctorate!!!
The speaker then went on to tell them that most marital problems stem from not having enough money, and again I was dumbfounded!
Ok, I get that everyone needs a healthy dose of realism...(anyone who has watched American Idol auditions, where whole families have told someone they have singing ability when clearly they don't, gets that concept)...but crushing people's dreams is far worse in my mind.
Here I was, sitting in a room full of people beaming at the prospect of following their dreams, creative people, some young, some old, all with the same hope that they could go out in the world now that they had this piece of paper and make a difference.
Even some of their mortar boards screamed...I'm creative, I have dreams, and I WILL achieve them, and then like a wet blanket being thrown on a camp fire this person told them...don't dream, follow the money trail, because that is where true happiness lies in this life.
I've never spoken at a graduation ceremony, so I can't fault this person for not really knowing what to tell people who are venturing out into a world full of unexpected glitches and financial insecurity, but I do know that I would NEVER tell them not to follow their dreams. Or maybe I'm the clueless one, and what he said did impact people in a way that I just didn't get...who knows?!
So, this got me thinking, what would I have told my niece and the other graduates if I had been the speaker at her graduation, what do I wish someone had told me when I was just starting to walk the path that has become my life, and this is what I came up with.
First, I would tell each of them to dream big, even bigger than they can imagine.
I would tell them to not be afraid to fail, because from failure always comes triumph.
I would tell them to be flexible, because change can be a good thing...it certainly was for this Poli Sci major who has never worked a day in her life doing any Political Science stuff!
I would tell them to live without regret, but be thoughtful in your choices.
I would tell them to avoid people who tell you to follow the rules, innovators never have and never will follow the rules.
I would tell them to bottle up the joy, the pure idealism, and the pride they had on that day, and to pull it out on days when they needed to.
I would tell them to listen to others, but never lose your own voice.
I would tell them to never stop being a student, and to always be a teacher...being one or the other is great, being both will make you whole!
I would tell them to give back, because they got where they are because of the generosity of others.
And though I could go on and on, I would finish by telling them to enjoy life, not the life they had, or the one they hope for, but the one they are living right this very minute, because time flies by way too quickly and you can't change the past or predict the future...you just have to live!
After chatting with Mr. Tide, and calling my own children on the 5 hour drive home to tell them how I hoped they would never follow advice which told them to not follow their dreams, but focus on the money, late last night I logged on to FB and saw the video below.
I watched it, and then left a thank you for the person who posted it, saying that it had restored my faith in humanity.
The truth is, that our experiences in life are just that...they belong to us, and they are not necessarily predictors of how anyone else's life will turn out. This video shows how it should be done, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, because it's not just graduates that need to hear what he is saying, we could all learn a little bit from it!
Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012 from The University of the Arts (Phl) on Vimeo.