Dear graduates of 2020,
First of all, big congratulations to each of you!
You have worked hard, pushed yourselves, recovered when you fell, balanced various aspects of your lives, persevered and achieved with the support of those who love you. You have every reason to be proud of yourselves and to look forward to whatever comes next. You may not have had a traditional graduation ceremony. Yours may have been in your backyard with your family, it may have been virtual, or it may have been no ceremony at all, but do not be discouraged. It is your work that is important and has real meaning, not donning a cap and gown crossing a stage.
That is the good news. The more challenging news is that you are entering your next stage of life at a critical time, whether your path is continuing education or becoming a productive member of our workforce. Our nation faces both a vicious virus with no end in sight and deep divisions in our political, economic and social fabrics.
Your parents’ generation — and some of even older generations — are part of the solutions to the United States’ profound struggles, but you will be the leaders. I urge you to embrace the role. Use your knowledge and your life experience to help your community, be it your school, your church, your workplace and certainly among your family and friends. Set an example not only for productivity but for caring and fairness. Be willing to make things better for others and for yourself. Share your talents for the public good.
Mothers have lots of advice, of course, so here are some basics from this mom. First impressions do count, so try to look nice. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Good manners will carry you far and to places money cannot take you. Eat breakfast. Never underestimate your enemies. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
We all have difficult moments in our lives, times when we are sad or fearful. When those times have come to me, several thoughts have sustained me and helped me move forward. One is that late in life, most people regret not what they did, even though they acknowledge decisions and behaviors that were wrong and hurt others. Instead, they regret the things they did not do — opportunities untaken because they were afraid, forgiveness not given, relationships not nurtured, personal potentials unexplored. Even though you are young and just starting out in the adult world, remember the wisdom of those who have been down the road you are just starting. Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt put it this way. “You gain strength and courage by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
And finally, learn to know, trust and depend on yourself and to enjoy your own company. As much as you may love your parents, siblings and friends, the reality is that many of them will not always be with you. A hard truth of life is that the only person who will take every step of life with you is you. Nourish your strengths and enjoy them. Be aware of your weaknesses. Know that you can trust yourself to make the right decisions.
So, I challenge you to go forward — to make the world a better place for your having been here. It is my deep and fundamental belief that it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.
I wish you all good things.