Fortunately for my son, I wasn’t invited to speak at his high school graduation. Unfortunately for my son, he gets his capacity for emotional expression from me, so I’m taking several weeks to write what could have been spoken on that day. Had I been allowed to talk to the Northern High School class of 2021, this is what I would have said:
Life is a competition; choose the game you’re in: I’ve always striven to be the best at everything I am involved in, but hadn’t considered until recently that I can choose what that is. Cal Newport breaks down this nuance in his Productivity Funnel. Be good at what you do, but always be sure you are doing things that add value to your life.
Balance yearning for tomorrow with satisfaction for today: It’s taken me 43 years to progress from appreciating knowing things to appreciating learning things. In the words of Antonin Sertillanges, “The reward of a work is to have produced it; the reward of effort is to have grown by it.” There is no growth without reflection. Be sure to pause at least once every day to take a step back from doing to be present in the moment.
Watch for pride/jealousy/envy: Tim Keller teaches that pride manifests itself in self-absorption, creating an inability to learn from one’s own mistakes. Guilty! Be humble as there is always someone bigger, better, and stronger than you. Choose your game, work hard to constantly improve at it, and be unafraid to define your own success.
[speaker slowly turns towards his own son with a single tear welling in his eye]
I know that a military move, a Polish exchange student, my breakdown, another military move, and COVID-19 prevented you from having a “normal” high school experience. I wish you the best of luck as you begin this steppingstone to adulthood and hope you have fun.
Also, don’t forget to call your mom…