Friday, May 18, 2012

To the Class of 2012

In 1997 a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich, published an article titled "Advice, Like Youth, Is Probably Wasted on the Young."  Two years later, director Baz Luhrmann released a song fashioned around Schmich's words--"Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)."  I think about that song--and Schmich's words--during this time of year because, like most adults, the only noteworthy advice I have to give graduates and former students includes inane suggestions like brush your teeth regularly, exercise purposefully (learn to like running now!) and read for pleasure every once in a while.

But if I had the opportunity to share my heart with the class of 2012, this is probably what I would tell them:

Many of you have had your life's trajectory planned for the last three years.  I'm not surprised given that we often allow you to believe that life is made up of prerequisites.  At least, our questions seem to point you in that direction:  What do you want to be when you grow up?  Where will you go to school?  Where do you want to live?  How will you pay for that?  Etc.  As you sit in these chairs and spend your last few minutes as high school seniors, you are probably listening to me (at least every other word) while simultaneously painting the picture of your future--college, jobs (with reasonably high paying salaries), travel, marriage, children, etc.

That picture you're painting?  It probably looks great.  It, for you, is the best possible outcome--all life has to offer.  And you are just sitting on the precipice waiting for me to stop talking so you can grab the bull by the horns and get that picture started.

Humor me for a few minutes while I delay your dreams.  As an educator, I want all the success in the world for you, but I don't want you to buy into the misconception that all these roads you dream of traveling will align themselves perfectly.

Because mostly?  They won't.

The lack of alignment has little to do with planning or impending disaster.  Life happens.  And when it does, unanticipated detours make their way on the map.

Sometimes those detours are necessary--like the trailer I never intended to buy, didn't plan to live in and certainly didn't anticipate staying in for 8 years.

Sometimes they are the road you should've taken and ignored for "bigger" and "better"--like the teaching certificate I didn't pursue until I was in my mid-20s.

And sometimes there are the plans that just change the way you think--like my marriage to my favorite man in the world.

Planned, or unplanned, those roads are the stuff of life.  My idealistic 17-year-old self believed I would be working at an ad agency, married with a few children by the time I was *almost* 32.  My real life bears no resemblance to that pre-planned journey (and tends to believe my 17 year-old self was an idealistic nincompoop).

I guess I could've told myself that some of these circumstances wouldn't last forever, but I'm hesitant to disregard the things that have brought me to this point.  Just like jr. high and high school weren't worthless experiences for what is come in your lives, the side streets that lead away from the "plan" shouldn't be disregarded as unfocused side steps from the original path.

Steps have defined you.  The ones you navigated when you walked through these doors will no longer be a part of your day-to-day experience, but they have helped define the person you are.  Likewise, the steps and mis-steps in your future will largely impact who you are and the decisions you make.

One day, you're going to wake up and realize this wasn't the picture you were painting when you sat in chair listening to some woman speak at graduation.  I hope it won't disappoint you to make that discovery.

But more than anything, I hope you quickly learn plans fall apart.

I don't intend to push you away from planning entirely.  I just want you to know that your lives  probably won't follow a straight path to success.  And that's OK.

The real goal is to forget the specific trajectory:

Life will move forward regardless.  That's a guarantee.  But the way you live it?  Requires little planning and  few prerequisites.  My guess is you'll find something worthwhile there you never anticipated.

Frankly, I imagine our lives, decisions and all, look a
little like this--chaotic, but beautiful.
I really hope you discover a few dreams your high school minds would've never anticipated, and I hope those dreams change every road you ever planned to travel.

Until then, happy wandering.

--Mrs. House

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