I’ve reached the age in which my nieces and nephews are graduating from high school, where gift-giving calls for a waffle-maker or a mini fridge rather than a Matchbox car, a stuffed teddy. It is jarring, always, for the adult to find she is the adult.
I’d imagine it is even moreso jarring for a kid to find they’re one, too.
Tis the season, then, for the commencement address. Offered as early as 1642, the tradition invites a new generation to sit cross-legged in lawn chairs, draped in royal polyester and acetate, tasseled caps at the ready. The custom calls for advice dispensed, for life to be made meaningful in an oratory roughly twelve minutes or less.
And while I will likely never be asked to offer a commencement address of any substance, I have always been one for pausing to mark an occasion in writing. This one’s for my nieces, my nephews, and yours – for the contemporaries of our day.
To you, dear graduates, a non-commencement address:
First, the bad news.
You have been taught a lie. You have been told that today is the first day of the rest of your life, that you are turning over a new leaf, that life is suddenly beginning for you.
Life is not suddenly beginning for you. It has already begun, and you have proof of it all in your heartbreaks and triumphs, in every last charm and fiasco. You, our great and beautiful youth, have walked the ground longer than the lifespan of a dragonfly, far beyond a chameleon’s years. You have outlived the cherry tree. You stand taller than the wildflowers in Mount Rainier; collectively, you outnumber the entirety of our known oceanic species.
No, your life does not start today. It has already started. It has been set in motion, joining 7 billion others, time ticking recklessly beyond our scope of understanding.
This is not your commencement; this is your continuing.
Your life began years ago when you joined this wide and wild world, when you were thrown into spinning chaos to learn (and teach) what it means to love greatly.
You have learned this over and over. You learned this when your guinea pig died, when your friend left, when the diagnosis came, when the glass shattered, when the rumor spread, when the best man didn’t win – when you didn’t either.
You learned it in the cold water and the stage fright, in that long black night you danced again and again to Beyonce, all sweat and tears and wonder.
You learned that beautiful things happen. You learned that good things end.
You will keep learning this forever.
I have, then, no words for you on starting anew. But I do have words for you on continuing.
And so, the good news.
You already know what you need to know to succeed in life, because you are already succeeding. You are facing a broken world, one where coffee is astronomically expensive and gunshots are echoing and your abs aren’t quite what you’d like them to be.
A planet in which, upon walking on the same sidewalk as another, you will become oppressed in ways that are not fair, and you will oppress others in ways that are also not fair. You will walk anyway. You will do your best to do harm to the least.
Might we call that a miracle?
You have everything you need to keep going. To continue. To keep the plates spinning. To drop one, if you’d like.
You have made choices, shed tears, laughed loudly. You have hiccuped. You have blinked 190 million times. Your arm has, with hope, fallen asleep beneath someone you have loved.
Might we call that, too, a miracle?
And so, my hope for you today, and every day in your continuation, is that you will witness this miracle, each bruise and breath and Band-Aid. That you will see your generation as we see your generation: one of strength and wisdom and great, great hope. One that mesmerizes us, like a fire we can’t turn away from, like a fire that enchants.
Like a fire that sparks, spreads, warms an entire nation.
Other hopes: that your parking meter be ever full. That you eat your vegetables. That you will meet your future spouse after a terrifically poor haircut, so that every day after he/she will marvel at your vast and inexplicable improvement, at his/her vast and inexplicable luck.
I hope the futon is on sale. I hope you wear sunscreen, call your grandmother. I hope you remember your pin number and forget your phone. I hope you floss. Hum in the hallway. I hope you take a Jeep ride under the moon, taste dandelion wine on a rickety front porch. Bathe in a creek, sleep on a floor. Break dance in Chipotle. Carry your friends. I hope for you more love than loss, more questions than answers, more books than nightstand. I hope you’re kind to the waitress. I hope you get leg room on the way to Florence.
I hope you look to your future, yes, but also lock eyes with your past. I hope you see that it has mattered, every scrape and shout and smile.
But mostly: I hope you dare to be ordinary. I hope you allow yourself a handful of terrible jobs and long commutes and bad dates. That you get tongue-tied on conference calls, botch the interview. I hope you find the miracle even then, in the most uncomfortable, unfortunate of instances.
(I hope you forgive yourself when you can’t.)
Welcome to the miracle, dear graduates.
Beautiful things happen. Good things end. Here we are anyway.
Congratulations to you on this remarkable blip.
May your continuing dazzle us all.