Last night was our oldest daughter's FFA awards banquet. As I sat at the table, picking at the plastic tablecloth, engaging in a game of "surreptitiously throw the FFA-themed confetti" at my husband and Abby's friend across the table, (Yo, Antonio. Whassup.) I listened to the keynote speaker, a fellow Okie who gratiously accepted the request to speak when the original speaker fell through. He was engaging and told stories of his three daughters, especially the middle child named Addison whom he declared was a terrorist. The audienced laughed at his stories of his daughters' shenanigans and how little Addison's sweet prayer included thanking God for the day, the world and polka dots. Of course, I egotistically thought, "Hmh. I could totally do what he's doing right now. I can motivate people." Then I remembered that sometimes my motivation methods border on drill sergeant. (Our youth group is babysitting for donations next weekend and one of the girls asked what they would do if some of the kids just wouldn't behave. They were worried there would be discipline problems. I looked at her and said, "They might not be afraid of you, but sweetie, do you think they're going to have a problem listening to me?" She shook her head and said, "Okay, no problems there then. We're good to go.")
But still, I continued to think, "If I were asked to address a group of students or - dare I dream? - a graduating class, what would I tell them?"
So without further ado, I present to you my
Address to the Graduating Class of 2012Hey ya'll! Thank you for asking me to come here tonight and impart upon you my words of wisdom. I am not famous or a millionaire. I can't brag to you about how I was a finalist on American Idol or how I got kicked off of The Biggest Loser for being a big loser and not being a big loser. I'll let that one sink in a minute. I have never climbed a mountain or swam an ocean, I didn't save a litter of puppies from a burning building nor have a video of me pathetically playing "Just Dance" go viral on YouTube. However, I have accomplished a thing or two in my 39 years here on this earth. If you'll indulge me, I promise I won't take too much of your time and then we'll get to the real reason we're all here -- to see the fruits of the labor of 13 or 14 years of education (15 or 16 for some of you, bless your hearts) pay off and walk across that stage, flip that tassel to the other side and smile pretty for the camera.
The first and most important piece of wisdom I can give you tonight is to keep God first. Always. Of course, you are going to make mistakes. That's a total given. Some of you will make more than others, some of you will make bigger ones than others and some of you are just flat-out gonna hit rock bottom. But if you will keep your eyes and your heart on God, the lessons seem easier to learn and the bounce-back time is infinitely quicker. If you'll let Him, He's a really awesome navigator. Pray. The Bible says to do it "without ceasing". Take that to heart. Pray with your boyfriend, girlfriend, parents, friends, siblings, spouse, your children and your pastor. God loves to hear from you. He never gets tired of hearing your heart.
Secondly, wear sunscreen. A few years after I graduated Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich wrote a list of things she wanted all of us to know as we grew older. Wearing sunscreen was the first thing on the list. I wholeheartedly agree. That tan that looks so hawt (with an "aw" not an "o") now will only age you. And quickly. And trust me, when you get to the ripe ol' age of 39 you do not need help with that. If you just have to look sun-baked, spray it on. I personally find nothing wrong with the marshmallow look. They say tan fat looks better than white fat, but folks, fat is fat. It's alllllll fat. It might as well be cancer-free fat. I mean, if you have the choice. And you kinda do.
That boyfriend? That girlfriend? The one you look all googly-eyed at right now? The one you cut your hair for or didn't cut your hair for? The one who kept you from going to Prom with a friend because she was jealous? The one who said it's okay for you to give him your virginity because he's "pretty sure" he's going to marry you? Yeah, that one? Statistically....you won't marry him or her. I'm not here to bust your bubble and make you doubt your relationship. I'm really not. And yes, there are high school sweethearts all over the place. Those are wonderful, time-tested relationships and I love hearing those stories. But don't be so quick to give it all up, change yourself and compromise because of a "promise" made at 17. I hope it all works out for you googly-eyed love-stricken weirdos. But if it doesn't, I don't want you to have regrets. If you do go on and get married, there is plenty of time to compromise and grow with that person. Just don't do it all too soon, right now, while you can't even vote or buy alcohol.
Be an individual. Some of you have cornered the market on individuality already. I applaud you. It takes true guts to stand out. The crowd says do one thing, the majority wants to rule you and you, with the blue-streaked hair, the all black clothing, the t-shirts that only make sense to other scientifically-minded folks like yourself *cough cough nerds*, the comic book afficionado, the one who simply says "No." when peer pressure closes in, you are the leaders of tomorrow. Yes, you will likely be labeled weird, maybe your already have been. Yes, you will be given some strange looks, you may already. No, you may not have been student body president, the most popular girl in school, the jock who has girls melting at his feet, but you already have this amazing potential to swim upstream, to think outside the box and to get it done in your own way. Please don't conform. Yes, you eventually have to get responsible and get a job and be all mature and stuff, but find ways to stay an individual without becoming a minion.
Hug your mom. Kiss your dad. I mean it. You are really not that cool anyway, so go ahead and just love on them. When you reach middle adulthood and suddenly look at your parents - I mean, really look at your parents - and yank your head out of your own daily battle with your own gray hairs, you realize that they lost that battle and have suddenly aged beyond your realizations, you will suddenly understand that hugs and kisses lost can never be regained. Video and audio record them talking. Please trust me on this. Right now you love them, I know y'all do, but maybe you feel like they harsh your ever-present mellow, suck the fun from every cool thing you want to experience and expect too much out of you - I totally remember feeling that way. But now I have been magically transformed into a parent myself and woah, it's heavy stuff. I find myself a mellow-harsher on a daily basis. It's a parent's job. Cut them some slack. Remember this commencement address because trust me, in a few years you'll be a gray-headed fun-sucker like the rest of us.
If you discover you have a talent or a knack for something, do it. Whether it's writing, painting, clog dancing, basket weaving, mime, baking or gluing googly eyes on rocks and selling them out of the trunk of your car, do it with all that you have in you. One of my very favorite quotes is from Erma Bombeck. She said, "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, "I used everything you gave me." Use everything you are given and make it fabulous.
Your siblings are priceless. I used to slap the ever-lovin' snot out of my little sister on a regular basis. She used to annoy the ever-lovin' snot right outta me with even more regularity than the whoopings I gave her. Then suddenly, magically, nearly overnight, we became best friends. Our mother used to cry, wondering what she had done to make us hate each other so much, thinking she had done something wrong while she was pregnant with us, maybe scrubbing the kitchen floor with straight bleach had warped something in our fetal brains that killed all desire to love our sibling in the future. I can't tell you why we fought. I can't tell you why your little brother sticks his plastic rat in your makeup case or why your little sister hacks into your Facebook page to write embarrassing status updates. All I know is that someday you will appreciate them. You might as well start now.
Learn how to use commas correctly. If this is something you didn't master here in High School, please pay extra attention to your Freshman Comp teacher in college.
Please stay active. I'm not saying you have to become marathon runners. I still hold to my strict rule that I do not run unless there are zombies chasing me. However, I'm finding that the first 10 pounds I used to be able to lose by simply cutting back are infinitely more stubborn as I age. And we won't even discuss the other pounds that have taken up what appears to be permanent residence. Walk. Do Zumba. Play "Just Dance" with your kids. Heck, a good game of Duck, Duck, Goose will suffice when your kids are on preschool playdates. Not all of us are cut out to be Victoria's Secret models, but even if you're one of the chunky who will never be as thin as society would like, at least be a healthy chunky. You have one heart. I mean, literally ONE beating heart. They don't just sell those on street corners. Well, I guess they might, but you never know where those have been.
And finally, look around at the classmates sitting here in these seats close to you. Please know that those around you right here today, here in your present, might not be part of your future. And that's okay. They are here now because they are supposed to be. They may not be later -- because they aren't supposed to. Being popular isn't as important at 35 as it is at 18. There were nine of us that ran together our Senior year, a mixture of five guys, four girls. We thought we owned those halls and no one was allowed on "our" front steps of the school. We were big, bad and ooooh so popular. I rarely speak to any of them now 21 years later. However, I can tell you that I have three friends who spent many a night at my house and I at theirs in elementary school and Junior High. We forged indelible friendships that have literally stood the test of time. I look back at the pictures of us in our Brownie uniforms and the silly ones of us dressing up at slumber parties and compare them to the ones of the "cool kids" I ran with as we got older and I can say that these girls - these women - are indeed true friends. I only regret ditching them for a brief run at the popularity I so desired, abandoning my innate desire to be an individual. So I guess what I'm saying is keep the ones who want to be kept. Let the others go. Don't lose sleep over it or wonder if you did something wrong. You didn't. You're going to change as you get older. Strangely enough, they will, too.
Congratulations, graduates. You've got a life ahead of you, each and every one of you. Some will be easy lives. Some will be hard. Some will be nothing but happy. Some will be laced with sorrow and hardship. Some will be a roller coaster ride of infinite proportions. Some will simply be leisurely Sunday drives down back country roads. But here's the thing, yours is yours. You do with it as you please. Don't let anyone live it for you and in turn, don't try to live someone else's. Be you. Be amazing. Be true. Be fabulous.
I wish you nothing but the best. God bless.