It’s graduation season. It’s that time of year when social media is inundated with posts of proud parents celebrating one of the most rewarding moments of their lives as they watch their children walk across stages, receive certificates, diplomas and trophies for promotions, graduations and commencement exercises. And proud they should be, because the world into which today’s students graduate from elementary through college and universities is fundamentally different from the one in which many of us grew up. We’re increasingly living in a globalized society that has a whole new set of challenges and expectations. These are challenges that come by way of economics, science and technology, health, security from external threats, and an ever changing demographics. There are expectations that come by way of parents and commencement speakers telling the graduate what he/she must do to move on to the “next chapter” of life… “Chase your dreams, be bold, take risks, it’s ok to fail, be true to yourself and live your passion.” The message that each speaker is trying to convey to young minds is near universal: From here on, life’s lessons are not in classrooms and books of biology, history or math. Life’s true lessons are in the arena of experience.
At 93, my father was still an avid reader. He said that one’s education never ended even to one’s last breath on earth. He told me that while he practiced making a living with what he learned in college, he continually found greater joy in changing the shape of his education. He was passionately curious and kept an open mind with his eagerness to read, listen, watch and share. Dad was right. His education didn’t end with a college degree. In fact, dad never really left the classroom. Here’s what I learned from my father.
With every book or article you read, with every person you interact, with every situation in which you find yourself, you open possibilities that stretch the imagination beyond the expected. You discover a sense of awe, knowing that there are things larger than us, that we do not have all the answers. A sense that we can stand right at the boundary between the known and unknown and gaze into that cavern and be exhilarated rather than frightened.
There will always be a new lesson life has to teach you, if you’re willing to listen. Be conscious. Be aware. Think about who you are becoming at every corner or road you take. Do not lose sight of your North Star. What inspires you to live in the present based on your values? What makes you hold on when all else is pulling you under? Be patient. Reflect. Offer your soul the quiet it needs in a world where you are expected to seek happiness through your material self-worth. Expectations tend to make you rigid, narcissistic, and uncreative. Seek a life of integrity as the source of your personal worth. You will feed the opportunities and starve the problems in your life.
Seek joy rather than happiness. Happiness is boring. Happiness is when everything around you seems perfect and you must stand still so as to not change the situation or yourself. However, the one constant in life is change. Seek change and know joy in facing challenges and moving forward. Pay your debt to life through deeds of love and service. Give before it is asked. Take care of others. Before you pursue your own dreams, serve someone else’s dream because you will learn much and remain humble. You will have many signposts along your path directing you to make money and climb up the ladder, but there will be almost no signposts reminding you to stay connected to the essence of humanity. Become an apprentice. Help someone else climb the ladder before you do. You will become less egocentric when you reach that “AHA” moment, the moment of success.
Be bold. Question the status quo. What’s right today may not be right tomorrow. Take risks. Move out of your comfort zone and discover the world in new ways. Do not become victim to “failure.” Become the hero. Because failure is an opportunity to learn; it rewires the brain and gets the creative juices flowing. Root your life in justice, compassion and humility and listen to the voice of your heart’s knowledge even when nobody else is looking. The trophies you earn may lose their luster and the merits on paper may fade but the true measure of your award is to remain the humble student of life’s universal classroom.
Congratulations parents and students.