To the class of 2021:
First of all, let me add my words of congratulation to you for completing what has at times seemed like an impossible task: You have hung in there––even in a year like no other––and I commend you for it.
Graduation is one of these significant and pivotal events. Believe it or not, you will one day look back on these years with a great deal of appreciation. Your time in school (and much of it learning remotely from your homes) has been marked with victory and joy, sadness and frustration, conflict and certainly growth. You have met a number of obstacles and have overcome them. Again, I say that it is a real accomplishment just to have stuck with it and seen a unit of study through to completion.
Graduation is just a phase of the learning process. It is not an end unto itself. It is a ritual of transition, not a ritual of termination. The challenge of learning goes on forever. It is altogether fitting that the graduation program be called “commencement” and not “terminus.”
“Commencement” signifies the beginning. And that is what graduation is––about beginnings not endings. Some of you may be facing graduation without the traditional Graduation Ceremony that goes along with it as much of the class of 2020 experienced. If this is the case, I implore you to hold a ceremony on your own with close family and the important people in your life. This rite of passage is important.
A couple of generations ago, George Bernard Shaw observed “most people died at thirty and are buried at sixty.” This is a tragedy––a living death. And it’s happening to people all around us. In his autobiography, Nikos Kazantakis recalls his childhood in a village in Crete where he shared an intensely idealistic relationship with two other lads. They wrote poetry, read avidly in many fields, and shared their dreams of what they wanted to become.
When he graduated from high school, Kazantakis received a scholarship for two years to study in Athens. When he returned to Crete two years later, he sought out his companions only to discover they had both married, settled into jobs they hated, and had begun to think only of security. Their dreams, their idealism, their hopes, had all faded. They had stopped growing. Or, to put it in another way, they had found a comfortable way to die.
This had a profound effect on Kazantakis, for all through his books there are warnings against stopping too soon in the pilgrimage of growth.
People have always had a horror of being buried alive. But what about the waste of a dead mind, a lifeless spirit, or a spoiled dream? To think of someone dying at 30 but not being buried until 60 makes me cry. The worst possible thing that could happen to you is to stop growing.
Growing is for always. If you realize this as you graduate, you will be far ahead in the game of life. If you refuse to realize this, then you would be better off having your diploma mailed to you, and then not opening it after it arrived. Grow for your job, grow for a hobby, grow for your family, but most importantly, grow for yourself.
Some may be surprised that though I am known for my speaking and communication skills, I never miss a chance to learn more about the craft. My father started me early on the road to developing this talent; he recorded me on a Wallensack tape recorder and would play it back and coach me. I took jobs during junior high, high school, and college that would further hone this skill. I still practice verbal drills daily and challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone. Just ask many of the employees and interns that have had a chuckle and been delighted at a rap that I penned and performed on their special occasion day. I tell my employees that school is never out. Times keep changing, learn and grow or be left behind.
I come back to my word of congratulations that is also a word of challenge. The event of graduation is a significant rite of passage and an achievement in itself. But remember it is a ritual of transition, not termination. Nothing is over yet, unless you will it to be so. Your education in the broader sense is not finished. You are simply ending another chapter so you can move on to the next goal. What we must never forget is that growing is for always, and nothing is quite as dangerous on the road of life as grinding to a complete stop. Many people die at 30 but aren’t buried until years later. Do not let this happen to you!
For God’s sake, and your own––don’t just stand there, grow on!
My Thought is written by Michael C. Blackwell, BCH President/CEO