About this time every year you see someone write a “letter to my younger self.” Letters like that are fun to write and usually enjoyable to read and they often go viral-crazy on the web creating great fodder for a graduation speech. You know, climb more mountains, eat more Ben & Jerry’s, don’t sweat the small stuff, blah, blah. But here’s the deal. At the end of the day they’re basically horsecrap. Why? Because even if you could write such a letter to your younger self you know your younger self would never read such a letter much less put into practice what the letter is trying to communicate. And again, why? Because you’re young, and not all but most of us learn things when we’re young by trial and error. In other words, the hard way. And that’s perfectly fine, we have to experience things for ourselves.
So here’s a piece of useable advice from a man a little older to those on the verge of graduation. It’s general enough to cover the very specific choices you’ll make in younger lives. I stole it from Mary Karr who stole it from James Martin (her spiritual director) who stole it, essentially, from Jesus who, well, yeah, he probably didn’t steal. So here it is, the graduation line that will benefit you in days ahead, but also right here and now.
Don’t be a Jerk
Yep, that’s it. This works whether you’re graduating from middle school, high school, college, vocational school, med school, law school, seminary, culinary school, graduate school, craft beer school, the school of rock, even wizarding school. In other words, regardless of the whether, try your best not to be a jerk. Oh, there’ll be days when it’s next to impossible not to be, we all have our moments and some of them are Oscar-worthy. But the emphasis here is on crafting a way of living that doesn’t consistently have people around you eye-rolling and saying, “Lord, what an ass.” Life’s much too short to live that way.
So how do you avoid this? Well, as you step into the rest of your life, whatever that looks like, try to be kind to people. Yes, at times much easier said than done, but that’s the gig. It’s really just a restatement of the Golden Rule, that “do unto others” jazz which for centuries has helped keep the world spinning in the right direction instead of careening off the highway.
Now that can make for a rather brief and boring graduation speech, but it does make for an honest one. And if there’s one thing graduates need to hear, it’s the god-honest truth about something. So cheers on your accomplishment, that’s not a small thing by any means. Celebrate, reflect a little, shower some gratitude on those who helped you get to this place. And from this moment forward, whatever you decide to do, remember to be – be kind, the non-jerk kind. Congratulations!