This is a challenge and an invite from Jane, and although I haven’t yet graduated from college, I have graduated from high school. So I have a little bit of experience. I also attended my brother’s graduation and watched the video of Rahm Emanuel give the speech for the graduates of 2009 at Sarah Lawrence College. But what would I want someone to tell me, to tell my peers? I think I’ll give it a try, see what happens.
It’s graduation day. How are you all feeling? Hot, I bet, in those gowns. You had to pay for them, too, right? I bet you wish they’d made them a bit more comfortable. Plus, those hats can’t be fitting very well.
But hey, it’s graduation day! This means any number of things – your exams are finished, your last papers are in, your theses are written and sitting in the professor’s files. You’re all probably feeling a little nostalgic too – thinking about how soon you’ll be walking down the halls for the last time, and looking into classrooms for the last time, and eating at the dining hall for the last time, and accidentally opening the door when someone’s in there in that bathroom on the third floor that never locks. And no one ever fixes it. Maybe when you come back for your reunion in ten years, you’ll go check if that bathroom lock’s been fixed. Maybe you’ll feel happy if it is, maybe disappointed. Maybe even shocked.
Things will change. These halls will change, new flowers will be planted in the quad, a new building will be built. But more importantly, you will change. I can bet you anything that if you come down here in five years, maybe even three, maybe even in two months – you’ll be looking at it all with different eyes. Because no matter what you think right at the moment – no matter how many promises you’ve made – no matter how many resolutions – things will change.
I’m probably scaring you. You think I’m saying that you’ll lose who you are. You think I’m telling you that your dreams will go to pieces. But I’m not, not really. I just want to reassure you that it’s okay if your dreams change. It’s okay if the person you are today isn’t who you are in ten years, because even if that’s so, you’ll always remember yourselves as you are today.
It’s a big, scary world out there. But don’t think that you need to change to fit into it. If you change – like you changed majors last year, or girlfriends, or favorite writers – then it’ll be for you, for your own reasons, and you probably won’t notice it happening. But don’t let that world, the one seems larger than life and scarier than Freddy Krueger right now, don’t let it tear you down. Use it. Use your fear of it to get where you want to go. Use the things you’ve learned and the skills you’ve mastered guide you, and let your instinct tell you when you need some help, too.
Now, I bet you all want to go hug your friends and your families. Maybe you’ve got a party later on, or night in, packing up. Just remember that today is about you, and what you’ve achieved. Go take off those gowns that mark you so clearly as “COLLEGE GRADUATE” and let the rest of you come out into the open and breathe a sigh of relief that this speech is over.