Editor’s Note: In the June 15, 2015 edition I wrote a piece that was geared toward graduating seniors, if given the opportunity to deliver a commencement speech. Here is a second installment.
To the 2015 graduating class:
My mother wrote a note twenty years ago that she intended to give to her three children. While she did not literally deliver the letter to us, the major tenets in the letter have a lot to do with who I am today. She gave me the physical copy of the letter approximately a month ago.
I will not use my mother’s exact words, I’ll put the typical “Ashley spin” on it as she taught me to be my own person, but I feel as though this might hit the nail on the head for all of you moving on today.
Don’t take for granted what you have, be it family, friends, pets, material items (if that’s your thing), your education.
Love one another. Hatred breeds only more hate. If you each respect that you all come from different walks of life, and embrace that with a feeling of love, your generation could be the one to make real change.
Life isn’t fair. You’ll be dealt cards you don’t think you deserve. You’ll want to fold. Don’t let the things that knock you down knock you out. Sometimes you’re dealt a hand with seemingly nothing to offer because you don’t have a straight or full house, but then realize those two heart cards … they were meant for you.
Educate yourself, for with that comes strength and confidence. Rather than, “I learned that from so-and-so,” be able to say, “That swing set, I learned how to build that myself. And someday, a skyline will be plastered with skyscrapers.” Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with mentors and teachers, but there is a wonderful sense of fulfillment when you learn something on your own, start to finish.
Work. Work your body, mind and soul. We’re all going to die. Every day is one day less. Don’t let your future job be your life. Yes, please have a job and become a productive member of society, but work isn’t only your profession. Allow yourself time for yourself. Sit in a tree and think. Go to a gym. Do yoga. Sit cross-legged on your living room floor for an hour and reflect.
People often say “Life is too short.” Well, can you name me one thing you do that’s longer? Maybe you can, and that would be fantastic. At any rate, you never know when someone’s last day will be on Earth. You don’t know when your last day will be. Don’t hold too many grudges. Loved ones die, that’s part of this journey. Some of you may have already lost your parents, grandparents, a sibling or close friend. Dealing with death is hard. Reach out if you need help with the grieving process, there is no shame in that.
Be strong enough to admit when you are wrong. Believe me, you will be wrong. Yet be determined enough when you are right.
Follow your instincts, they tend to be right. If after a college party on your walk back to campus seems like it may be sketchy to you, go a different route. Call a friend. Call a cab.
Remember, no one is perfect. Don’t let anyone make you think they are.
Money is not everything.
Make yourself your top priority, and be your own best friend. Stand up for yourself. Hold your head high, because you are amazing.
Help the less fortunate. Most of you are probably playing with your smartphones in class, or taking selfies in the bathroom, but remember that there are people all across the globe — including this country, maybe even this county — that don’t have fresh water. They aren’t able to shower daily. Meals are acquired from dumpsters. If you can help someone out, do it.
Take hikes and enjoy nature. Spend time in the sun. Play hide and seek in tall grassy field with your best friends. Sidenote: Make sure you’re not trespassing on private property when you do so.
Own pets and show them love. While they will be in your life for maybe a decade and a half, you will be their entire life.
Do not settle for something in life because you feel as though you have to. Dream. Set goals. Start small. Demand excellence of yourself, because all of you beautiful people deserve it.
Remember that everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them. Think before you act.
Don’t trust everyone. There are some slimy people in the real world. I’m sure you’ve all encountered some already. Keep yourself safe.
Have fun. Go on trips, even if they’re just day trips somewhere. If you so desire, travel the world. Try skydiving. Bungee jumping. White water rafting. Ride a camel.
Share your feelings with other people; don’t assume they know how you feel about something.
Maintain relationships with good friends and confidants, they’ll be that wave you need that pushes you back to the shore when you feel like you’re drowning.
Generate your love.
And finally, while your branches are sprouting out in this life, do not forget your roots. You can’t become the tree someone wants to photograph and put on Instagram without them.