Your life is not a gif
I’ve had a couple of days away from budgets and politics. In case you too need the respite, here is my commencement address to our three graduating classes of 2016:
Graduates, congratulations! Parents, congratulations! Teachers and principals, congratulations! Today we’re celebrating hundreds of individual accomplishments, but we’re also celebrating the collective contribution of each of you here. These students enter the world from high school – whether it be college, work, or anything else – on the heels of the caring adults who have taught them. They enter the world with the friendships They’ve developed during this time as well.
Students, you come here today with memories and hopes and dreams. You have goals and ambitions. You have certainty, and yet you face the unknown. I’ve talked with many of you. I know you have plans for the next four years, and then the 10 years after that. Well hold on for the ride. Some of what you have planned will unfold exactly as you expect it to. And then some won’t.
There’s no perfect blueprint for adulting – that’s a word I’ve learned from my own children who have entered post-high school life. Well, it’s not really a word, but a short time ago, many of the things we say now weren’t officially words either. When I was in high school, there was no Internet. One of my favorite words – blog – is only a little more than a decade old. The words photobomb and re-tweet were just added to the dictionary last year.
Another of my favorite words, though, is gif – G-I-F. You may think it’s a recent addition to the language but it actually dates all the way back to 1987, when I really was in high school. It’s an acronym that we use as a word. It stands for Graphics Interchange Format. Those of us who are on social media much at all think of gifs as short intervals of video that are cut to form a continuous loop. Basically, they’re the same five or ten seconds repeating again and again and again.
They’re funny. They’re sometimes effective tools for illustrating a point. And sometimes, they’re just obnoxious ways for cat owners to express themselves.
What they are not, however, is a blueprint for adulting. You don’t want to repeat the same 10 seconds of your life over and over, and you certainly don’t want to repeat someone else’s life over and over again. It’s your future out there. They’re your decisions to make – your triumphs, your mistakes, your struggles, your accomplishments.
When the good things you’re bound to experience happen, treasure them. Take pictures and videos. Tweet them to friends and family. Throw them out on Instagram and Snapchat. Add captions. Relive them through the magic of Timehop, or whatever comes next in the way of social media. Getting caught up in a moment is a great thing sometimes. Just don’t be stuck in an endless, repeating loop.
As you exit high school, you have a certain number of choices before you. What you’ve done to this point has helped determine whether that’s a high number or low number. As you get older, you’ll still have choices to make. You can choose a career path now, and you can change your mind in a couple of years. It’s easier to do that at 20 or 22 than it is at 33 or 44 or 55. The older you get, more people will be impacted by the choices you make.
I can just think of two critical things you don’t want, though. One is to let other people determine who you should be. As hard as it is for your family to hear sometimes, you are the person who has to figure that out. Nobody else gets to choose where you live, how you make money, or even what you want to name your children. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have an endless stream of unsolicited advice. Sometimes it will even feel like pressure. Just remember, though, sometimes the best path is the one nobody saw coming.
The other thing is not to let your life unfold so that you look back on high school and say, Those really WERE the best years of my life. Don’t peak at 18 or 19. Even if you loved every minute of high school – and I know you did – make the next four years even better. Then, make the next four years even better than that. You can always climb higher than where you are right now.
And when you hit a rough patch along the way – whether it’s because you made certain choices, or it’s because sometimes, bad luck just lands on us – figure out what went wrong and change your path. Don’t spend another year, or four years, or 10 or 20 years, beating yourself up, wondering what went wrong.
Your life is not a gif. As much as you don’t want to keep a highlight reel on in the background at all times, recycling the same moments again and again, you definitely don’t want to relive the unfortunate times more than you have to.
It’s a great world out there. It’s huge. It’s great to be a (Bomber/Eagle/Titan), but you can be even more than that. Some of you are going to be Raiders, or Sooners, or Cowboys, or Bronchos, or any number of other things. You’re going to become mothers and fathers, and someday, in the very distant future, even grandparents. You’re going to go to work, and some of you will even become somebody’s boss.
And when you do all of this, when you’re smack-dab in the middle of adulting, I hope you’ll look back at your time in high school – really, at all ages of schooling – as something better than a gif. I hope you’ll see it as a gift – that’s with a T on the end. Wherever you go in the world, I hope you’ll see the value in educating our youth, and building this country’s future.
Leave home. Come back and visit. Email your principals, counselors, and teachers and let them know how you’re doing. Call your parents often. Never forget your roots. They’re what give you the strength to pick the path that’s ahead of you – the path you choose, whether it’s the one less-traveled, or the one with all the tread.
Congratulations, and good luck, Class of ’16!