To the graduates of the class of 2020: Congratulations. In a year that has done everything it can to stop you, you still made it. Success is within your reach, should you choose to reach out and grab it.
You are going out into a strange world, one that is vastly different than the world you lived in four years ago. Life is not what you expected it to be once you got here, but if I’m being honest, life usually works out that way. You have a plan, you put it all together, you take your best step forward, and a swarm of coronavirus-infected murder hornets comes and ruin everything. You’re left stranded, unable to determine which way is up, but still you know you need to press on.
That instinct to press on is exactly what you need right now, though! This is not the time for giving up. It is not the time for giving in. It is not the time for saying “You know what? I’ll just hide and wait it out.” Right now is the moment where you jump into the deep end of life and pray those swimming lessons you were taking the last four years helped.
I don’t know what your plans are. Some of you have job opportunities waiting for you, and some of you are being met with jobs that no longer exist because of this chaotic point in time. Regardless of your situation, you can and you will prevail.
Before you head out into the world, I would like to give you some advice. It’s been a solid ten years since I left college, and I truly wish I knew then what I do now. I don’t live with any regrets, but I sure do think I could’ve done some of this a lot better.
Take social media for example. I used to joke that one day our social value would be determined by how many friends and followers we had on Facebook and Twitter. Looking back, that was silly, because our social value is clearly determined by how many Instagram and YouTube followers you have. But, just like your parents told you when you were in elementary, middle, and high school, don’t do things for the approval of others on social media. You will wind up miserable, like a drug addict whose next hit is a post you want people to like and share. Whatever you do on social media, do what makes you happy and gives you a healthy sense of fulfillment.
The same goes for work. Don’t pick a career simply because it pays well. Like any get-rich-quick scheme, it comes with uncomfortable sacrifices and you will never truly feel like you got enough out of it – if you got anything at all.
Do what you love, and make your living from that. The happiest people are the ones who feel a sense of satisfaction with the work they do, not the size of their paycheck. The unhappiest people I know have sacrificed their satisfaction with work for satisfaction with money, but the money is never enough, especially to overcome the unhappiness with the job.
When you make your life decisions around how much you’re going to make, you’ll make unhealthy sacrifices. You feel you can’t afford to slow down and build a family. You worry that you can’t afford to get married right now or have children right now. You worry about that next house or car instead. You stress over promotions and advancements and raises and all of a sudden your friends and family have passed you by, while you are miserable at home and all of a sudden your life has become Harry Chapin’s “Cats In The Cradle.”
Have a plan, but don’t sweat every detail. Roll with the punches. If you can’t stay positive in the face of adversity, are you really ready for adulthood?
The only thing more unhealthy than working for money instead of fulfillment is devoting yourself to following politics every waking moment of your life. If you set out to make everything political, you’ll find yourself at odds with everyone around you. Open up your bubble and let other people in, no matter what they think. You can argue, but don’t let it shatter your relationships. You can disagree, but shake hands and have a drink together.
Invite people over for dinner more often, and make sure your phones are far away from the table while you share a meal. We’ve lost the art of personal conversation, and we have to rediscover it. It’s up to you to do so. The older generations appear to be giving that up.
Lastly, have faith in your fellow man. We’re in such a divisive, petty world right now that it sometimes feels like it’s not worth trying, but it is. We have to have faith in each other and believe in the best of people we like and people we don’t like. Maybe they’ve earned it and maybe they haven’t. But we have to try to embrace them even when we disagree. We have to see that, oftentimes, they truly believe that they are doing or saying what they are not because they’re evil but because they believe differently.
The last four years should have served as an eye-opening experience. You should have new experiences, relationships, friendships, and beliefs as you leave. If your mind doesn’t change at all over a four year period, then you haven’t become a better person. You might know more, but you’re stuck and unable to improve.
Go out into this crazy world, class of 2020. Do right by it and it will do right by you. Godspeed.