Recently, I attended a graduation ceremony of the son of a dear friend of mine. The campus was stirring with motion and emotion. The atmosphere was electrifying with radiant hope swarming amid the buzz and commotion of proud parents and friends wrapped up in the moment, celebrating graduates at the threshold of their lives. It took me back to thirty some years ago when I had stood behind a podium and presented the valedictorian address to the graduating class of the University of La Verne, my Alma Mata. As I recall the “speech,” the message then was rooted in dreams and passions of making the world a better place; of accepting the responsibility to become extraordinary citizens of humanity, to serve mankind and to leave the world better than we had found it. Had much changed today? If I were to address the graduates of today, what would I say with the accumulated “wisdom” of the years? My mind started to drift.
….Graduates… keep an open mind and recognize the wisdom revealed by life as a crucial catalyst to your education. The process of learning is lifelong. I shall never forget a few years back when my father had looked through TIME magazine, intrigued by news and science articles highlighted on the cover. He scanned the articles, shook his head as he put aside the magazine with a forlorn smile and said, “So much more to read, so much more to learn, yet so little time.” My father was 93 then.
Most of you will choose to seek further studies and attain higher grounds. You will be challenged, you will compete and you will perform with professionalism achieving the highest points of your desires. As important as your obligations are as doctors, scientists, lawyers, business leaders, athletes, educators, remember that you are human beings first and your human connections, parents, family, spouses, children, friends are the most important investments you will make. Do not fall prey to becoming victims of your lives. Become the heroes.
Find humor in your lives. Take time to laugh with your human connections. Your view of the world will become more realistic. You will become less egocentric and more humble when you reach that “AHA” moment, the moment of success. But more importantly, humor will make you feel less defeated in times of trouble, because inevitably, you will meet failure, you will meet disappointment. And when you have to face the dilemmas of good and evil, and are lost in the delicate shadings between the two, remember your purpose, remember this day, the day when classmates, family, faculty and friends celebrated you as a graduate and entrusted you with the future. Surround yourself with those human connections who will remind you of your beauty when you feel ugly; who will believe in your innocence when you feel guilty; who will make you whole again when you feel crushed; and who will set you on the right path when you feel you have strayed.
Take time to observe water in all its forms…steam, mist, droplets, trickles, rain, waves, torrents, sleet, snow, ice. Each is water and each is crucial to the world we live in. At a recent assembly, the Archbishop Derderian quoted Mother Teresa who, when asked what she thought she could achieve as a single person doing all she did with such passion and devotion, had responded knowing that she was “just a drop in the ocean, but,” she had said, “the ocean would be less without that drop.” Graduates, be that drop or be the torrent but do not separate yourself with labels, for you are each as water, crucial in different forms. Education is a lifelong process. And in the process do not neglect to pay your debts owed for your existence. Remember that the higher your achievement in the measure of your success, the greater your debt to the past. Do not let it be said of you what Voltaire the French poet said of one of Louis XIV ministers that “this man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” Pay your debts of the past through deeds of love and service. Root your lives in justice, compassion and humility and listen to the voice of your heart’s knowledge even when nobody else is looking.
Think all this, do all this with a strong faith in humanity, and you will have done an extraordinary task in a world that will be a better place.