|Kenyon College Class of 2005 graduates.|
This is an interesting year to graduate. We are in the heat of presidential election primaries. Tough job leading this country, but somebody has to do it! Even if you don't like the choices, are you involved in helping this country grow and become a better nation? Will you vote? Greater question: will you give back to our country?
The December 2015 Washington Post reported, nearly half of millennials polled in a recent Harvard survey said they support the use of ground troops against the Islamic State after the Paris attacks, but 85% of those same people said they would not join the military. I am not saying you need to join the military, but what about serving through other means? Time Magazine published an article in September 2008 by Senators Kennedy and Hatch, 21 Ways To Serve America. This article will give you ideas on how to serve and give back to our country. This is an act of paying it forward.
Do you share? If so, what is your evidence? Frank Trenttmann, Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers ... writes, "The urge to acquire material goods is so embedded in human nature, we may have trouble taming it even if we recognize the environmental threat it poses to the planet." Yet, the "sharing economy" is in full swing with Uber and Airbnb leading the way. But beyond making money sharing, are you "sharing" your resources, gifts, time and money with those less fortunate, the underserved? Are you sharing with those who are in need? Hoarding seems to be a way of life in America as well as in the world. We now have over 10 square feet of rental storage space for each 318 plus million Americans. The average American garage no longer has room for cars as it is loaded with "stuff." The recent Panama Papers scandal revealed the worst kind of hoarding - a compulsion to amass large sums of money. Excess means never having enough! Consider the truth of one of my favorite bumper stickers ...
Here is a sad truth. If you own something including money and cannot share it or part with it, you don't own it, it owns you. Sharing means building longer tables rather than higher walls. As Sir Issac Newton pointed out back in his day, "Men build too many walls and not enough bridges." Will you be a wall builder or a bridge builder?
Are you relational? Millennials have an obsession with the '90s sitcom, Friends. Over 16 million people watch Friends 236 episode reruns weekly! The appeal seems to be caught up in a line from the pilot, "Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You're gonna love it." Friends came during a time of little conflict, no social media, no texting. It was optimistic. Friends fills the void of being there for one another. While you may long to get back to the timeline of Friends, what is stopping you from living like the characters on Friends right now?
When you are with others, are you fully present and mindful? Are you paying attention to being fully present? Can you put down your smart phone and be there in the presence of others, making eye contact and giving them the gift of your time?
Speaking of relational, are you diverse and inclusive? Quick check of your Facebook page will give you the answer. Do your Facebook friends look like you, think like you, act like you, eat the same foods as you and have the same beliefs as you? Having diverse relationships makes for a smaller world, reduces ignorance and enhances one's life and experiences.
Are you revengeful? President Obama's 2008 election theme was hope. The theme of this election cycle is revenge, getting even. We are an angry nation, and we are out to get even. Revenge is the fuel of the growth in lawsuits and a rainmaker for lawyers. Will you contribute to revenge or will you "seek to understand before being understood?"
Here is another election issue; politics are ruining relationships. The ugliness displayed toward others who support a candidate different from ours is reaching hurtful and unhealthy proportions. Politics like marriage is founded on compromise, listening to another point of view without taking it personally or finding it offensive. Do not let your opinion, belief or ideology get in the way of your ability of being a critical thinker.
Are you a critical thinker? If so, what is your evidence? This is another favored and thought provoking bumper sticker for your consideration.
Critical thinking means not believing everything you think or ideology you subscribe. Critical thinking requires courage, perseverance, release, patience and curiosity. It means getting out of your comfort zone, challenging assumptions and being non-judgmental. Critical thinking means asking questions. Critical thinking requires you to stand in someone else's shoes and see an idea, an opinion, a belief from another point of view. Critical thinking means checking facts and being steadfast in asking "What if ...?" and "Tell me more!" Critical thinking means checking your fear. The problem with critical thinking is it may lead to changing your mind, it may make you flip-flop because you become better informed.
I hear people say, "America was founded as a Christian nation." How might critical thinking help to learn if that statement is true? Who says America is a Christian nation? Can you find evidence our forefathers sought to make this a Christian nation? Google what Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine and James Madison said and wrote about religion and government. Our country was founded on religious liberty that includes those who do not believe in God. By the way, "In God We Trust" did not appear on U.S. Currency until 1956!
North Carolina passed HB2 requiring people use bathrooms that match their biological sex. The rush to pass this bill failed at critical thinking. The law discriminates against LGBT. Do you know what a transsexual is? Do you know a transsexual? First, transsexuals are fully human. Second, they are "wired" differently from those who who do not identify with this "wiring." Those who support HB2, say the world has gone crazy. I say those who support HB2 have gone ignorant, fearful and uncompassionate. If you fall into this void, get out of your comfort zone and meet LGBT. Discover who they are and seek to understand their "wiring." Ask them if they chose to be "wired" that way.
Critical thinking will over come a huge problem of fearing or hating someone with whom you disagree including their lifestyle. Critical thinking will keep you from compromising your convictions in order to love your neighbor.
Do you have grit? According to Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance, grit matters more than talent. Grit takes a "no" as a delayed "YES." To get to "YES!" requires perserverance, made up of willpower, resilience, self-control and tennacity. I saw grit in my father leaving the corporate ladder to go into business for himself. My son, a US Marine had grit to enlist, endure MCRD and serve. Are you a quart low on grit? Duckwork believes you can learn to grow your grit!
Are you in debt? Many of you are graduating college with big student loan debt. Some of you will be making repayments on these loans that rival mortgage payments. You are leaving college financially frail and living on the financial edge. You inherited another layer of stress. Neal Gabler wrote The Secret Shame of the Middle Class May 2016 of The Atlantic magazine; "Financial impotence is an equal-opportunity malady, striking across every demographic divide. If you ask economists to explain this state of affairs, they are likely to finger credit-card debt as a main culprit. A good many Americans are “financially illiterate,” and this illiteracy correlates highly with financial distress." The only way out of this debt is to become "financially literate," to focus on your accountability and commitment, and to put your needs before your wants. If you didn't learn self-discipline in college, learn it now.
Speaking of self-discipline, are you overweight? Did you ever shed your "Freshman 15?" Global obesity is an epidemic. Obesity is a complex disease. It contributes to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, sleeping disorders, joint issues and a reduced quality of life for yourself, your loved ones as well as your friends and cohorts. The obesity heathcare cost to our nation could be as high as $210 billion per year. Obesity impacts employers at an estimated $506 per obese worker per year. Do yourself a favor, get healthy! It will benefit you as well as others.
Are you unique? You no doubt have made friends in college. Some of them have charted their next steps and have a job awaiting them or plan to pursue their next level of education. Are you comparing your life with them? If you are, you failed to recognize your unique gifts, talents and passions. You either have not discovered them and or you've taken your eye off them. Focus on you. Compete with yourself.
Are you grateful? Have you taken time to handwrite and snail mail your gratitude to all of those who have made this day possible? First, your parents who were your first teachers. Second, other family members and friends who had a role in making this day possible. Finally, a handwritten note to those teachers and professors who inspired you to complete your work and receive your diploma. The gift of your expressed gratitude will be appreciated beyond your ever knowing. Your handwritten notes will fire endorphins leading to a runner's high!
Are you happy? Graduation day should be one of the happiest days of your life! Raj Raghunathan, author of If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy found in his research on happiness that being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life! MHS's Emotional Intelligence instrument, the EQ360, gages one's well-being or happiness factor through four lenses: believing in oneself and living according to one's values; one's level of optimism and hope; self-actualization including knowing the legacy one wishes to leave; and strong interpersonal relationships. Personally, I've found the happiest people I know live less complicated lives. They don't compare themselves to others and have an abundance of compassion for others. They have high expectations of themselves but realistic and fair expectations of others. The happiest people know for what they stand and have a sense of purpose. They are mindful and live in the moment as much as possible. The happiest people I know continuously practice gratitude. Finally, the happiest people I know remember their joy and re-experience this state of being regularly, especially when in pain.
Personally, my joy is recalling my sailing adventures, the first time I held my newborn children, every time I hear "I love you" from my wife and son, seeing LYSYATOY from my daughter in her emails to me, creating and wearing our wedding bands, attending our son's Marine MCRD graduation, dining in our daughter's restaurant, designing and getting my tattoos. Pure joy is attending monthly Final Friday gatherings with neighbors. Remember and recall your joys often.
The best commencement speech I have ever heard (and did not realize it until later!) was David Foster Wallace's commencement speech to the Kenyon College class of 2005. Wallace's speech was not uplifting but it was full of wisdom and a suggestion to look in the mirror and confront one's truth. Wallace's challenge to the graduating class - attention to the "water" that surrounds you:
“And I submit that this is what the real, no-bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.”
- David Foster Wallace
This speech four years later morphed into This Is Water, a book and a video. It's a recommend watch, that I go back to periodically to challenge my thinking.
So, who are you? I'll leave you with what I know for sure. At this moment you are valuing achievement and success. Forty years from now, you will value impact and relationships with others and your health. Put on your dancing shoes and live without hesitation or procrastination. Promote you. Even if you don't have a business card, make a good quality one, always have them with you and hand them out like popcorn! Find, don't wait to be found. Ask for help and advice. Find a mentor who has "been there, done that and got the t-shirt." Get out of your comfort zone. Take some risks. Nurture your grit. Embrace mistakes as learning lessons, not as setbacks or shame. And never, ever stop learning!