On the first Saturday in June, my class said goodbye to our College of the Atlantic community and walked into the next part of our lives.
Robert Krulwich from NPR’s Radiolab gave the commencement speech. He urged us to find our pleasures, surround ourselves with “Yes” people, and get back up when we get knocked down. You can read more of the Chumbawama Principle @ NPR here.
You can’t always name the thing you’re going to be.
For most people it doesn’t work that way. You have to back into it. Designing yourself isn’t like being a conqueror. It’s not Genghis Khan screaming “Charge!” thundering across the steppes, seizing his prize — no. It’s more like you are nearsighted. You like salty snacks, and one day, fumbling along, you knock over a pretzel dish and think, “What’s this?” You take a bite and think, “Hmmm! Do I like pretzels?”
It’s more like that.
Accidents happen. The trick is to know when you’ve gotten lucky. To say, “I do,” to the pretzel. This works for jobs. Works for girls. Works for most things…
Some days you’ll be the star. Other days, you’ll be behind the scenes, a producer. And as you try all these different roles, I want you to notice … try to notice … When am I happy and when am I slightly disappointed? Do I love fast days or slow days? Being in a group or solo? Do I like the library or the street? Thinking or doing? You may think you know now, but nobody knows. Doing it is better than imagining it. And here’s what: You will discover tasks you thought you’d love will sometimes disappoint. And tasks you thought you’d hate, oddly, you might enjoy.
But here’s the important thing: For the next year or two, whatever you do, you should be sorting your experiences into two piles: One for all the times you get a little bit high — and I’m speaking here about emotional highs — loving what you’re doing. (Not loving what you’re toking — that’s a different thing.) So, one pile for all the experiences that thrilled you a little. And the other pile for all the things that didn’t quite work. So a year or so from now, you’ll have a more and more defined notion of where your pleasures are … and aren’t.
Those piles will keep getting more and more specific, and there’s a lesson in that. After a while, when someone invites you to do a job, you will have a tangible feeling, “Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I like.” Or, and this is far more important, “No, that’s the kind of thing I don’t like,” and you’ll know when to beg off and walk the other way. This is a do-it-yourself way to get a little luckier and to avoid making stupid mistakes.
Nobody can do this but you. Starting now, the teachers, the coaches, the uncles, the friends will begin to fall away and leave you alone to figure out what will make you happy later in your life. For some people, it’s not easy to listen to yourself, to honor your own feelings, particularly if you haven’t done it much. But this is your job now: to listen, not to someone else’s heart and expectations, but to your own.
Not that you won’t make mistakes. You will make big, fat, stupid, oh-my-God errors as you go along. Everybody does. Even the things that seem most true, most elemental today can have a way, over time, of changing, of morphing into mistakes.
Here’s the point: When you are trying to create a version of yourself that will one day make you happy, half the battle is know your insides — know your pleasures.
And the other half is to know your outsides — to find allies, partners, mentors.
You don’t become yourself by yourself. You become you, boosted on others’ shoulders, buoyed by others’ smiles. You may be a singular person, but your success will always be plural.
And so … about-to-be-graduates of the Class of 2012, ladies and gentlemen, at the College of the Atlantic, it is time now. Time to step up, get your diploma and address the question, “Who am I going to be? How can I design myself so I have a chance at happiness?” You have the advantages of this school. Because you are sitting here, on this campus, at this time, with these teachers and these friends all around you, you now know how to learn, how to persist and how to dream. You’ve gotten the gifts. You’re on your way.
So, to all of you, congratulations — and now get on with it.