"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined."
~Henry David Thoreau
~Henry David Thoreau
Yesterday, my stepson Zach (Al's youngest) graduated with honors from Alfred University in New York State. While we were unable to attend the ceremony due to business travel plans, we were fortunate enough to be able to see a video of Zach delivering his Marlin Miller Outstanding Senior (Man) 2011 (the equivalent of the valedictory speech) to his classmates and the faculty of this renowned university. As I listened to the video of this extraordinary young man recounting special memories and relating all of the experiences and lessons that had molded his life over the last four years and would continue to shape his future, I started thinking about what words of wisdom I wished someone had offered me as I began my own journey into adulthood many years ago... so, here are my thoughts - for Zach and all of the other young adults making their way into the world! Congratulations and the very best of everything to you all. We're handing the torch off to you - set the world on fire with your passion and make it a better place in whatever way you can!
Never settle for less than what is perfect for you. You have to live your own life and make your choices based on your own passions and desires, not those of your parents or other family members, nor your friends or associates. You will know when the right person, partner, or situation comes along. Have confidence in yourself, be patient, and continue to grow along the way so that you'll be ready to reap the benefits of your journey.
Don't be afraid to take a stand - whether it's for something you believe in, or for the rights of others. Never do something simply to be popular or accepted. Do things because they are simply the right things to do. Some may ridicule you for doing so, but in the grand scheme of things, their opinions are insignificant.
Whatever you do, give it your all - you won't always be rewarded by others, and some people may even look down on you for your work ethic, but in the long run - the experience you receive, the sense of personal pride you'll feel, and the role model you'll serve as for others are worth a great deal.
Each morning when you look in the mirror, reflect on who you are and make it a point to be true to yourself. Each evening, when you look in that same mirror and reflect on your day, remember that one day does not necessarily define a lifetime. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings, congratulate yourself for your successes, and remember that each dawn brings with it an opportunity for a fresh start.
Do only those things that would make those who know and love you even more proud of you. Don't hide behind sins of omission or even outright lies, and don't sacrifice your own self worth or reputation for instant gratification or momentary thrills. Integrity is important.
Confront your fears - especially your fear of failure. We all fail - it is part of the human condition. Luckily, out of every experience - failure or success - comes wisdom. You learn what to do, or what not to do. You learn what you want, or often more importantly - what you don't want. No experience, even one in which you feel you have failed, is without gain in some sense. Glean what knowledge you can from the situation, determine what you will do differently in the future, commit to changing whatever you need to change to get the results you want, put the past behind you, and use your energy to achieve your dreams.
Be neither too quick nor too hesitant to forgive. While we are all human and subject to errors in judgement, trust and respect are precious commodities that should be treated as such... not manipulated nor demanded but given freely and purely. Living a life of acceptance in the face of unfortunate adversity or striving to be appropriately non-judgmental is one thing, but don't allow yourself to be a doormat for the sake of false friendship, career advancement, or even a semblance of love. Someone who truly cares about you will never ask you to do anything that would compromise your sense of self worth or that of your relationship with them.
Expect no more from anyone else than what you yourself would be capable or willing to give under the same circumstances. It can be easy to make excuses or blame the world for your situation, but when it comes down to it, we are in control of our destinies - we just need to be willing to go the distance.
Draw on past experience but look to the future. Remember that just because something has worked in the past, the future may hold the promise of new and better methods with even better results. Remain open to new ideas, challenge yourself, and above all, never lose the desire to learn and grow as a person.
Remember that today's actions are not without consequence - it's up to you whether the effect will be a positive or negative one.
Live a compassionate life - apathy may well be the most destructive path we can choose as human beings. Never lose your ability to feel... always remember that the walls you build to protect yourself from pain or to keep negative experiences at bay are the same walls that will keep out true joy and fulfillment.
Remember that you are loved.