Class of 2014 you are an impressive group of young men and women. As I have come to know you over the past four years, you have shown yourselves to be a talented, driven, philanthropic, and outgoing class.
You have made MERHS proud with your many intellectual, artistic, musical, charitable, environmental, and athletic accomplishments. Your parents, your teachers -- from kindergarten to high school -- and your communities have prepared you well. They have provided you not only with a strong education but also with a sense of tradition, a spirit of inquiry and a commitment to service. You have made the most of what your families, your communities and your schools have provided you and above all you have demonstrated strong character. You have left MERSD a better place than you found it. You should be proud!
Commencement signals a new beginning – the first of many mile markers on life’s winding road. I am sure you are filled with optimism, excitement, and a bit of trepidation in anticipation of what lies ahead. There will be new faces, strange places and challenging experiences around every corner, and I have no doubt that you will take the world by storm.
In this time of looking forward do not forget to take a moment to look back and appreciate all who have worked tirelessly to help you along the way. Your families, mentors and friends share in your success. They have helped you to become all that you are today. And, while you are dreaming of the future, the adults in your lives can’t help but reflect on milestones of the past - Your many firsts: words, steps, school bus rides, Merrowvista, DC, solo car rides, dates. Help them through this transition by taking them along with you – ask them for advice, call them… or should I say text them… to let them know you are okay. Visit them when you can, share with them your triumphs and your challenges, your hopes and fears. Those conversations, those moments, will be some of your most treasured memories down the road.
During a lunch group earlier this year you taught me an important lesson. I learned from you that you have been over scheduled for a good part of your lives. You didn’t say it overtly, and you certainly didn’t complain, but the message was there. We talked about the pressures of balancing school-work, sports, extra-curriculars, jobs, family, friends…etc. I was tired just hearing the list of responsibilities and the complexity of your schedules. I innocently asked what you did for downtime…and among the assorted replies was the common lament… “Sleep” – sleep is not down time! That simple remark led me to reflect on the notion that the collective “we” may be inadvertently sending you the wrong message about the work-life balance. As teachers, parents and mentors we have impressed upon you the importance of hard work, responsibility, planning ahead, being organized, multi-tasking, and setting goals. We have taught you that this is the roadmap for success. But success and happiness don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
Media and modern society would lead you to believe that success is measured by the make of your car, the location of your house, the size of your bank account and how well you brand yourself in social media. I urge you not fall victim to this outlook. It happens to the best and smartest of us at some point. Our media saturated society has created an image of happiness and the American Dream. But it’s just that … an image – happiness and success are defined by the individual, not Facebook. Set your own course and measures of happiness. Be authentic and let your lives and your achievements reflect what you value and what makes you happy. In the words of the Greek philosopher Democritus, “Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.”
Graduates frequently hear the phrase, “Welcome to the real world”. I would argue that you have been living in the real world. High School is, after all, a microcosm of the greater society – although the currency may be grades and awards, how much you make is emphasized… and there is pressure to excel and be the best …there is a high school version of keeping up with Joneses.
From what I have seen from the Class of 2014, the greater society could learn valuable lessons from you. You are kind and compassionate, supportive of one another, accepting of your differences, active contributors to the betterment humankind, and fun-loving. Those are the most important skills to carry forward in order to maintain that balance between happiness and the quest for success. It has been said that one must “Create a life that feels good on the inside, not one that just looks good on the outside.” Your accomplishments thus far demonstrate that you have the foundations for striking a wonderfully successful life balance - for building a life that will feel good on the inside.
So on this day of celebration and reflection I want to leave you with some simple advice that may seem a bit contradictory to the lessons taught to you, but that I hope will help you to not to lose site of the important things on your personal journeys. Strike a balance between achieving and being. Life is not just a series of acquisitions… you need to be present in the moment – enjoy that which is before you. Goals are important – they give you direction. A life plan is good – it prepares you to take advantage of opportunities that come your way and will allow you financial security and comfort. But don’t be so pre-occupied with the map that you miss the journey. Happiness is not a destination but a state of mind. Be prepared to enjoy the flat tire and the unexpected detour, as it may bring you to place you never imagined. Be present in the moment and take pleasure in the beauty of everyday things: Life-long friendships - Strong family ties - A sunny afternoon on the beach -Beating your personal best. Material success is worthless without respect of self and love of family and friends. Don’t spend your lives looking out at the horizon – Live each moment as if it were your last. In the words of our beloved Maya Angelou who exemplified a life well lived, “…work very hard, and…play very hard…[be] grateful for life. And…live it….life loves the liver of it…live it.”
Make time for fun, be true to yourself, and take the time to enjoy the byways while on life’s road.
Congratulations & Good luck!