They say it takes a village to raise a child. To most of us, this simultaneously makes perfect sense, but also causes so much tension. Dissonance. What if someone in the village is an idiot? Well, there’s always a village idiot – we just hope that’s not us…
I’ve pondered this moment for months – this opportunity to impart one last snippet of wisdom. As time grew closer, the pressure mounted. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the concept of procrastination, but someone told me that I was procrastination. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about and I meant to look it up, but then I decided to watch another season of The Hour and it kind of fell off the radar…
In all seriousness – well maybe not all seriousness, there will probably be another joke or two in here…
I struggled preparing for this moment. I struggled with keeping this about you and not making it about me. Coincidentally (or not), we’re in the same boat – we’re all stepping out of a place where we’ve learned, grown, established an identity – a purpose… a sense of belonging. Everything I know about teaching and learning, I’ve gleaned in this place. For seven years, I’ve been challenged. Three years ago, we watched out first batch of Bioscience graduates leave. That was a bittersweet moment, to say the least. I had the privilege – or curse, depending on the day – to work with that class for each of their four years here. To send them out into the world was both terrifying and gratifying.
I said some words that evening and I cried.
In fact, the handkerchief I had for that graduation is right here – it’s never left my lab coat pocket….which is kind of gross.
That same year was your first. You entered as terrified, awkward, smelly little things – wild eyed and curious, faux-confidence exuding from every pour of your person. And that’s exactly where you’re at now… Funny how things have a tendency to stay the same.
If I were reading the signs, I’d say all of that was pretty poetic and somewhat prophetic. At the same time we were seeing off our first set of graduates, we’d just indoctrinated you all… and on your way out, I’d be leaving with you… The farewell I’d issued then is fitting now.
Farewell, in it’s origin, was never meant as a goodbye. It literally meant to fare well on whatever journey one was about to embark, with the intent being that the bidder would see the traveler again. When I spoke three years ago, I said that we should bid our incoming students farewell as they entered this place. It is, after all, a journey. Alas, we didn’t, but it is fitting, now, to bid you fare well.
You are all wonderfully insightful young men and women. I shared with you a few weeks ago that I believe one of the biggest problems this country faces is its underestimation of our young people. We don’t expect enough of you and we don’t give you enough opportunities to grow. This is another matter for another day and another venue, though, as tonight, we’re here to see you off…
And with that, I offer you what little more I might…
First – slow down. These past few months have seen a multitude of challenges and stresses in your lives and the next chapter is on the horizon. You don’t need to build anticipation – it does that on its own. Just slow down. Before you immerse yourselves in the throes of college, take a minute for yourselves. Look back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished. Revel in your achievements and give credence to what you’ve done. At the same time, it’s important to give voice to opportunities for improvement.
Not so long ago, the term YOLO entered the parlance of our time. You only live once. Thanks, Drake. You successfully reduced carpe diem to a meme. That’s impressive. This thing – you only live once – is inaccurate. Not only literally - Yeah – I regurgitated what that one guy from The Office said – you only die once. I’m certain he wasn’t the first to utter such things… but I digress … but figuratively, as well.
One way or another, there’s a certain comfort in knowing you have the opportunity to fix something. For me, it was there’s always next year. This implies that same sense of reflection and self-assessment that we’ve mentioned once or twice through your little adventure down these hallowed halls. Unfortunately, this YOLO that society has embraced runs counter to that sentiment. YOLO supposes a certain level of flippancy – an unbridled irreverence towards things that might be deserving of such things.
I’ve known the whole year that it would be my last at Bioscience and I constantly battled taking the YOLO road. Others even encouraged it – it’s not your problem anymore – you’re LEAVING. I could not stomach this for one second and at the same time, I didn’t have next year to fix my mistakes. This was it.
I concede – I’m as flippant as they come. There have been many a time where I’ve lamented the monsters we’ve created in empowering you all to be free-thinking, self-governing beings. HOWEVER – this idea of YOLO assumes some level of “oh well.” This is the exact opposite of carpe diem or similar sentiment. To live with no regrets is one thing. To live flippantly is another and will likely lead to regrets, not the opposite.
If there is anything I would hope to imprint on the young people with whom I have had the honor teaching, it is this – be intentional.
In short - NO YOLO.
Know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Conformity gets such a bad wrap in the era of counterculture and hipsterdom. In similar veins, the anti-establishment track is viewed as passé. In and of themselves, neither judgment is accurate. It’s okay to conform and it’s okay to reject the status quo – but both need be done with a certain level of conviction and information. In the very near future – possibly this very evening – you will be faced with difficult choices, tempted to do things that will challenge your value compass. Whatever you do or do not do, know why you are doing it. Be not the fool who blindly pursues the low-hanging fruit of life.
Live with purpose every day.
You were all asked to think about your legacy at Bioscience – about what you’d leave behind. Since coming to the realization that I, too, would be leaving, I’ve pondered the same thing. Bowties? Sarcasm – I’m not really sure what this is, but I was given a dictionary of it? Intimidation? It’s raining? Dolling out nicknames? Coffee and what have you? I know that I’ve influenced many people and I am very, very proud of that. I’m proud to have been able to work with such wonderful young adults – world changers. I’m proud to have been a part of something so hugely important and full of impact.
But none of this is my legacy.
A while back, we re-crafted our Mision for the school. The vision portion of the hybrid statement is such that Bioscience will create critical thinkers, creative problem solvers and compassionate citizens. The question arose, What will we do to create compassionate citizens? You can teach critical thinking and you can teach problem solving strategies, but how do we teach compassion?
I would like to think that through our conversations – through courses that I’ve helped write and develop – that I’ve had a small part in helping you all become compassionate Citizens as evidenced in your exit interviews and studio projects. I’ve never seen a group of young people who are so in-tune to the ills of the world, to the injustices that plague us on a daily basis. I was working up the nerve to sing to you, but our Constitution protects against cruel and unusual punishment, so instead, I’ll just read the lyrics from one of the songs that keeps ping-ponging around my head space…
When I was a boy I wished that I was older
Wished that I was taller, tall enough to see
See the things I see today, now I wish they’d go away
Out and let me far astray, astray from what I need
This is you. You entered your senior year wishing to be “taller” – older, wiser, and what have you. You’ve been changed by your experiences but also because you wanted to grow.
You are a group of young people who desire to change the world for the better and this gives me a tremendous sense of hope for the future.
I brag about you all – yes, Brandon, even you - as if you were my own children and I am excited to hear about your triumphs, I am here to lament your tribulations, and I am honored to now call you friends.
Congratulations, class of 2013.
Good night, and good talk.
When you work with people – work for people – change manifests as one of several flavors based on the boundaries of the relationship. When those boundaries are blurred or multi-faceted, things get confusing. The flavors of change are:
To the sads…
So, you’re feeling sad. Well, so am I. Change is not easy, but if we stand to learn anything, it is through change. Embrace it and control what you can control. The only true sadness is finality and change does not guarantee that finality.
To the exciteds…
Thank you. Your excitement means a great deal to me (us). Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
To the confused…
Change isn’t always rational – especially if we don’t share world views / ideologies / deontological underpinnings … I rock a size 11, but roll about fifty hats. Try ‘em on and walk three fights of stairs whilst figuring out which hat to wear first…
To the scared…
Channel your spirit animal and fake it ‘til you make it. Making it via faking it is completely different. Don’t confuse one for the other. Order of operation matters.
When in doubt, trust your gut. Indeed, it’s usually full of shit, but it’s your shit.
To the resentful…
Just stop. It’s not worth the energy.
To the apathetic…
Why were we … anything, anyway?
Apathy is the opposite of love. Never be apathetic. If you find yourself in such a state, ponder it longer. Surely, you can find a better response.