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Note to My Younger Self

...and to graduates, too

Graduation is an exciting time. All but a sliver of your life still awaits you.

I believe I met that thought with equal parts exhilaration and terror on my own graduation day.

And people are chock full of advice for graduates, advice that will largely fall on deaf ears, as maybe it should, because we all must forge our own paths and gain at least some of our wisdom through life experience.

When we’re graduating, we don’t yet know what we don’t know, and maybe that’s a blessing so we won’t get hung up on what’s feasible, or practical, or rational, even. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The commencement speech at Northwestern University in 1987, the year I graduated, was given by the former University Chaplain, James Avery, and while you would think that that is not as sexy as, say, a celebrity of any sort, Reverend Avery did not need any accompanying paparazzi to send a message that stayed with me every day of my life since.

It was simple. He said, “What you do from this day forward, matters.”

That weighed heavily on my young psyche. It informed my life decisions. And it still does.

What I wish I could tell both my younger self as well as our current crop of graduates is not quite as succinct…

Learn to love yourself sooner, rather than later. Dare greatly. Now. And forever. Risk fearlessly. And if you can’t risk fearlessly, then risk fearfully, but take a risk. And when you’re betting, always bet on yourself.

If you are ever going to be “carefree,” now is the time. So explore the vast wonder of the world. And while you’re at it, explore the vast wonder of your own soul. Dare to know yourself at the depths of your being, and be vulnerable and brave enough to share who you are. That is and will always be your greatest gift and the way you connect with other souls along this journey called life.

Practice kindness, even when you’re in traffic. And laugh every day, as much as you can.

Be patient with both little children and the elderly. You were once the former, and if you’re lucky, you’ll live long enough to be the latter.

Be bold, particularly in your vision for your life. Think big and work toward it every day.

Celebrate every single thing there is to celebrate along the way. Milestones, big and small. Take the time. Rejoice. And don’t forget to celebrate others’ accomplishments, too.

Know that you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that this world is in need of exactly what you have to contribute.

Whatever paths you choose, and whichever roads you walk down, if you’re unhappy, change direction. You’re allowed to do that.

As hard as this is to believe, life goes by in the blink of an eye. So love with all your heart, be the kind of friend you’d like to have, make something or someone’s life better, because what you do from this day forward, matters.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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