I don’t remember a thing from my high school commencement speech.
No sprig of advice, hint of knowledge, gem of insight as I embarked on the world with the rest of the class of 1990. (Holy hell that was a long time ago.) I’m pretty sure it wasn’t George H.W. Bush or Shock G from Digital Underground or Melissa Joan Hart.
Kerry Rivera at Breadwinning Mama wrote last week about commencement speeches from middle America. Her post is awesome. It got me thinking. What if they did want middle America? And what if they asked me?
Kerry is middle America. So am I. This is where we end up, between the ivory tower and soup kitchen. We declare our intent to rule the world and we barbecue with family and accept college offers or report to the shop for work the next Monday. Life begins.
If you join us in Middle America, it isn’t because you failed. It’s not a consolation prize. It’s the destination you have trouble seeing. Especially when well-meaning speakers and family members implore you to reach for the stars and rise to the top.
The top of what?
There’s angst sometimes in the ivory tower. And joy in the soup kitchen. It’s the middle. It’s where I live, and so many people I know live. We’re not astronauts or instant millionaires. We’re dads and moms and coaches. We’re cookie eaters.
We’re loyalists and flip-floppers, sun-seekers and reclusive types.
Life here is often a splendid balance of work and family, of talent and passion.
We triumph. We diet and fail. We change our lives. Again. We begin to run or stop drinking. We regret and we learn to live with our choices. For most of us, there are no magic words in a commencement. Not even on a Pinterest board.
Our struggles are unique and sometimes beautiful.
Sometimes, the beauty is in the struggle to juggle. The wins and losses, and figuring it all out. Or, pretending to. And showing our kids not perfection, but dedication.
It’s not measured in degrees earned, or zeroes on a paycheck. Not by acquisitions and deals and discoveries and start-ups sold. It’s survival from one day to the next.
I can’t give you a gameplan for it. I can’t slip you a cheat sheet, or life-changing insight. Insight to what? I’m not in position to give myself insight on … myself.
But this isn’t a warning to give up your dreams.
Dreams keep our eyes up.
And dreams change. Dreams are born of places you’d never expect. Dreams die sometimes. Sometimes slowly, sometimes so abruptly you can’t change directions right away no matter how hard you try.
And that’s OK.
Today, you might feel certain about your future. Your spot in the next class at your dad’s alma mater. As an apprentice for your mother’s business.
It’s better to have goals than it is to have your sights set on something. Sights set means all or nothing.
Your sights set on a target mean you might miss everything between you and your target.
Often, that’s where the best things in life live.
You’ll know moments of uncertainty and loss of religion and loss of innocence. You’ll know moments of unbridled bliss and unexpected riches. Blessings so incredible you won’t know who to thank. And few will have to do with any single goal.
Instead, it’ll be about who you are and where you are. Which direction you’re headed, and how content you are to live in that space, and in that moment.
I want to let go a little. Accept myself for who I am, and not worry so much about who I want to be. Not to say I won’t try. I will look to challenges fatherhood and soccer coaching and writing give me, because they exercise me within and without.
But I am not going to try and back away from all else that I am.
I am a bit tortured. I am a bit pensive. But I am also quick wit and smartassery. I’m love and I am solitude. I hurt and I hope. And sometimes, that looks pretty gray. But that’s OK.
I need to proofread my work and drink my water, and accept that certain things in life are not on my horizon right now.
I need to stay open to all the possibilities the universe presents to me, if only I’ll listen.
I wish I came here after 42 years with a well-worn notebook filled with the wisdom and knowledge only life can give us.
But it exists only in my heart, and in a language only I can understand. That’s how yours will read too – exclusive to you.
Some trendy speakers will come in with strangely specific tidbits of light such as “live for a year in New York.” Well, I never have. Nor do I want to. Strangely specific, some advice.
Beware such strangely specific advice you get along the way. I realize that advice is also strangely specific.
I will tell you that if you have a chance to reach back and help someone, you should. That doesn’t matter where you are. I haven’t mastered it. I’m proud of myself when I do, but I still get perturbed at opportunities to help someone when I wish I could just embrace them.
We’re all in motion. Some of us need more room. Some of us need more to eat. Some of us could use a sandwich and a kiss on the mouth. But most of us sat the way you do today, ready to toss your hat, ditch the robe and devour life.
I’ll botch this, but I want to end with a story.
A man told a group of hungry kids that there was a box of fruit next to the trunk of a tree. The child who could get there first could have it all.
At once, the kids moved toward the tree – together.
“Why did you do that?” the man asked. “Any one of you might have had everything, had he just run faster than the rest.”
“But this way,” a child said, “everyone can eat.”
This isn’t a mixed message of socialism from a lifelong Republican voter. Instead, it’s a plea to see yourself where you are, and look for what you can do. Sometimes, life’s a competition. And sometimes, life’s a compromise.
There’s an awful lot of us, here in the middle. All looking out for ourselves. And for each other. All at once. It’s that beautiful struggle in the juggle.
Welcome to our world.