A Good Graduation Recommendation

By Kellyn Brown

Each year, before walking across a stage for a handshake and a diploma, graduates sit quietly as their top-performing classmates give them a pep talk. Then it’s the commencement speaker’s turn to tell the students the best way to follow their dreams, conquer their goals and live their lives to the fullest. While well intentioned, the further you get from graduation day, the more you realize how many of these speakers got it wrong.

I remember parts of the speech delivered at my University of Montana graduation about 10 years ago. The guy speaking had his arm in a sling – apparently as a prop – and told us we could do anything if we only tried hard enough. To prove it, near the end of his speech he took his arm out of the sling and threw a football across the Adams Center. See, his arm wasn’t really broken. He just pretended it was to prove a point. And so go the majority of commencement speeches.

True, graduates need to be inspired. They need to forge their own paths and, sure, it’s probably helpful for their elders to tell them how hard it’s going to be. But what was missing in both my high school and college commencement speakers’ notes were words on the equal importance of looking back, remembering who raised you and remembering where you’re from.

Recently, I came across an article titled “Advice for college grads from two sociologists” written by Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp. It included much more practical life tips, such as “make friends.” It sounds simple. But as the authors point out, if “you have good friends, you’ll be less likely to get the common cold, less likely to die from cancer, recover better from the loss of a spouse, and keep your mental acuity as you age.”

I’m lucky. I wrote this column from the back seat of a station wagon while two of my childhood friends discussed the quality of the Americanos they had just purchased at a small convenience store on the outskirts of Mount Rainier National Park. The three of us and two others had met for a weekend stay at a cabin in Packwood, Wash.

We’ve all known each other for more than 20 years, some of us our whole lives. We’re now graphic designers, firefighters and, yes, editors. We’re all extremely different, but when we’re together our conversations inevitably include how fortunate we are and how important it is that, 15 years after we left high school and spread across the country, we still maintain our friendships.

Wade and Sharp are right. One of the most important aspects of your life is going to be those relationships with those people who care very little about whether you reached those goals you set out to achieve when you graduated. Because, the truth is, most of us don’t. And that’s OK.

Citing a British Medical Journal study, the sociologists write, “Having happy friends increases your chance of being happy as much as an extra $145,500 a year does.”

It’s still worth trying, but it’s hard to change the world. And what’s important when you’re a teenager or 20-something, such as family members and friends, are perhaps even more important as you age. Those relationships are certainly more valuable than getting that next promotion you’ve been vying for or buying that waterfront home.

So, graduates, while heading out to conquer the world, remember your roots. Stay in touch with your old college roommates; go camping with the skateboarders you roamed the hallways with in high school; and make new friends. Because when things don’t work out exactly how you planned, they’ll be the ones still giving you pep talks.

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