To the graduating Class of 2015, as you are soon to leave high school, I offer this advice. Take what you need:
“Youth is wasted on the young”1 is a phrase you will one day understand, but only too late. No one climbs oak trees as saplings. You will wrinkle, gray and lose your hair, but that does not change the wisdom and beauty you earn over time.
Be someone who makes you happy. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You are your own worst critic and only you have to live with your decisions. Life is far more flexible than you imagine.
Armchair complaints do not leave your living room. Fight for justice, protest, write letters, poetry, songs, speeches, sermons or legislation. The arc of history tends toward justice, but you must participate to change the world.
Vote wisely in the ballot box, at the cash register and with your presence. Money is ink on cotton and paper which people trade you for time2. It does not buy happiness; you must find that on your own.
Every day, do something artistic so that when you reach old age, you have a lifetime of beauty to remember3.
Watch sunsets prayerfully, to learn why we first worshipped the sun and the moon. Count the stars, knowing that some will die tonight and never shine again. Name constellations in your honor. Invent their mythologies.
The world is just one big small town. Treat its residents accordingly. Serve your community selflessly and it will repay in kind. Your youth, friends, lovers, coworkers and neighbors all come and go. Family will bind you to your ancestry and is the only thing that survives you. You are the microphone of your ancestors.
Forgive your parents; they were young once, too. Where they failed, do not4. Raise children intelligently, you owe it to your grandparents.
Teach your daughters to be warriors and your sons to be artists. They will find their own path when the time comes. Love them regardless.
Be kind to the flowers5.
Dance. The rest of the world wants to join, but just waits for you to ask6.
True friends will offer a lift when you’re stranded or a sofa for the night. Don’t overstay your welcome. Offer your own sofa. Build yourself an army so you have ground to go to.
Being disliked for your honesty is more honorable than being loved for your deception. Lies are hard to remember but the truth is easy to corroborate.
Embrace solitude, don’t fear it. It will save you on the lonely nights. Once a year, lie down in a gutter to learn how to sleep there if need be.
Send love letters, handwritten and in envelopes. Keep a box of all the love letters you receive. Attend weddings and funerals whenever possible. Ceremonies bind us to our history and remind us of our humanity.
If you get cut, watch yourself bleed. Understand time is doing the same thing to you. Death is inevitable, so live as though it might knock on your door tomorrow. One day it will.
Write poetry. Even if it never leaves your notebook. If it does, proclaim it loudly from the stage.
The past is unchangeable, the future is unknowable. You live your life in the moment between them. George Patton, Nellie Bly, Neil Armstrong, Georgia O’Keeffe, Samuel Clemens, Rosa Parks, Andrew Carnegie and Ella Fitzgerald were all as young and foolish as you once. We know them for what they did. Glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever. Become worth remembering.
It takes guts to say “goodbye,”7 “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Be brave. Love like a brass section; love like brass knuckles8.
Words can kill, so use them wisely. Speak honestly and slowly. Enunciate with conviction. Your words will bind you when all else is lost.
Ask for advice from your elders. The best is offered free of charge. Take what you need and make a list. Change it whenever you change yourself. When you are old, offer advice freely to eager ears. Some people may forget it, others may ignore it, but a handful may take your best lines, repeat them and pass them along into the stream of human memory.
Christopher Fox Graham
1: From the French proverb, "Si jeunesse savait, si vieillesse pouvait"
2: From slam poet Seth Walker
3: "“... the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars," Jack Kerouac, from "On the Road."
4: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does, and that is his," Oscar Wilde, from "The Importance of Being Ernest"
5: From slam poet Jackson Morris
6: "I have no desire to prove anything by it. I have never used it as an outlet or a means of expressing myself. I just dance," Fred Astaire, from "Steps in Time".
7: From slam poet Ryan Brown
8: From slam poet Claire Pearson