It’s graduation season. I have the graduation season blues. I thought that once all my peers finished their degrees then graduation season would go away. The problem with having been in a rather rigorous program, however, is that a lot of my peers went on to graduate school. And so graduation season didn’t end, just now it’s full of master’s degrees, PhDs and MDs. Now it stings even more.
Ten years ago today I stood in front my of high school graduating class at our commencement ceremony and I delivered the valedictory speech. I don’t remember what I said, just that I almost certainly said all of it too quickly.
I do remember the day I found out that I would be giving that speech. Our high school determined valedictorian and salutatorian solely on academics and so the top two students gave the two speeches. I knew it would come down to me and one other guy, so when a few weeks before the ceremony the phone rang in physics class asking both of us to come down to the principal’s office, we both knew what it was about. I remember the gleeful chorus of, “Ohhhh you’re in trouble!” that followed us out the door. The two smartest kids getting called to the principal’s office was apparently very exciting to a class that was 83% grade 12 boys with senioritis and a gong show on the best of days.
But as I said, we knew what is was about. And we knew it was a close, but in the end I had come out a little bit ahead.
It felt really important at the time. And remembering this story ten years later, it admittedly still feels quite important. Which I feel pathetic about, by the way. It was just high school, after all.
The other guy probably doesn’t care anymore. He got his undergraduate degree, and then I’m not sure what but he’s in med school now, so he’s done just fine for himself. And the student who academically rounded out the top three of our grad class, she’s a doctor now.
Look at where they are now, their success. And look at where I am.
I think highly of those two classmates and I genuinely wish them the best. Them and all my peers who have worked hard to earn their degrees.
But as my best friend so eloquently put it last week when I was talking to her about my graduation season blues, “This is crappy and you’re allowed to feel crappy about it.”
I feel crappy about it.
I wasn’t able to finish my undergrad let alone go through the master’s program I was working towards. I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the last ten years, but my high school commencement was the last time I reached an end point for years of hard work. I know it’s not for a lack of trying that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to. I know what happened with my health is outside of my control.
High school doesn’t feel like “just” high school because high school was the last time I was healthy. It was the last time I believed that hard work was always rewarded with success. It was the last time I felt like I was in control, like I could do anything and be anything.
And now, realizing that it’s ten whole years since I felt any of that, it just gives me the blues. I want that back. Not high school itself, but the potential for my life that existed when I graduated. The version of me that got to give that speech. I want to be what she was set to become.
Speaking of that speech, I just went and found a copy of it and I read it. My theme, coincidentally, was success. Here are a few things I said:
“As we stand before you on our high school graduation, we are all hoping to reach that great place in life: success… but you see, true success is measured by impact. It is achieved by learning from your mistakes…And it is achieved by making yourself a better person every day so that you can help to make the world a better place…And our success is not who we are now, but how we have journeyed to this place. It is through perseverance and conviction that we have become the people we are today. We have worked hard and our work ethic will continue to lead us towards further successes.”
Basically, current me, feeling bummed out because my life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, just got schooled on the definition of success by 17-year-old me. That speech was a bit of a “snap out of it” tough love talk from my former self.
Don’t you hate it when those young’uns know what’s up?
When I said all that ten years ago, I had no idea how my life was about to change, but the last ten years of my life have still been full of learning from mistakes and intentionally bettering myself. My circumstances have changed but my work ethic has never faltered. It doesn’t matter where I am, or rather where I’m not, it’s about how I got to where I am, and there’s a lot to be proud of in how I got here. And 17-year-old me, while she would be surprised and probably sad about the way things turned out, by her very own words she would see me as a success.
And if that’s how she would see me, why shouldn’t I see myself that way?
Here is one more quote from my speech:
”My hope for every graduate here today is this: may we continue to push ourselves to our fullest potential, may we continue to find the joy in giving from our hearts, and may we never lose sight of who we are.”
I work within different limits now, but I have done just that.
I know who I am. I like who I am. 17-year-old me would be proud of me today, and I am proud of how she became me. It hasn’t been in the way that we had hoped, but she and I, we have still succeeded.
I can see that now.
I still have the graduation season blues, but they’ve softened. They were navy blues, but I guess they’re graduation season periwinkles, now.
I can see the flowers, now.
And that, well that is a success.