To the graduating Class of 2014, as you are soon to leave high school, I offer some advice. Take what you need:
Wear sunscreen. I heard that in a Baz Luhrman song and it still makes sense.
“Youth is wasted on the young” is a phrase you will understand when it is too late to do anything about it. No one climbs oak trees when they are just saplings. You will wrinkle, gray and maybe lose your hair, but that does not change the wisdom and beauty you earn over time.
Be someone who makes you happy. Don’t take yourself so seriously. You are your own worst critic and only you have to live with your decisions. Life is far more flexible than you think it is.
The world is just one big small town. Treat its residents accordingly. Serve your community selflessly and it will repay in kind. Your youth, friends, lovers, coworkers and neighbors all come and go. Family will bind you to your ancestry and is the only thing that truly survives you. Raise children intelligently, you owe it to your grandparents. You are the microphone of your ancestors.
Admire the pageantry of humanity but do not believe it; we all wear silly hats.
Fear the indifference of good people more than evil. Don’t be indifferent.
Every day, do something artistic so that when you reach old age, you have a lifetime of beauty over which to look back.
Vote wisely. You vote in the ballot box, at the cash register and with your presence.
Forgive your parents; they were young once, too. Where they failed, do not. Raise your daughters to be warriors and your sons to be artists. They will find their own path when the time comes. Love them regardless.
Dance whenever you want. Pretend the rest of the world wants to join you and just waits for you to ask.
True friends will offer a lift when you’re stranded or a sofa for the night. Don’t overstay your welcome. Offer your own sofa. Build yourself an army so you have ground to go to.
Money is ink on cotton and paper which people trade you for time. It does not buy happiness; you must find that on your own.
Embrace solitude, don’t fear it. It will save you on the lonely nights. Once a year, lie down in a gutter to learn how to sleep there if need be.
Say kind words to strangers. It could change their life and even if it doesn’t, it may change their day.
Send love letters, handwritten and in envelopes. Keep a box of all the love letters you receive. Attend weddings and funerals whenever possible. Ceremonies bind us to our history and remind us of our humanity.
If you get cut, watch yourself bleed and understand time is doing the same thing to you. Death is inevitable — accept this and live as though it might knock on your door tomorrow. One day it will.
Be kind to the flowers.
If it is unclear, rephrase it. If it unusable, remove it. If it is imperfect, rework it until it is as much a part of you as a limb.
Write poetry. Even if it never leaves your notebook. If it does, proclaim it loudly from the stage.
Watch sunsets prayerfully, to learn why we first worshipped the sun and the moon. Count the stars, knowing that some will die tonight and never shine again. Name constellations in your honor. Invent their mythologies.
Andrew Carnegie, Ella Fitzgerald, George Patton, Neil Armstrong, Georgia O’Keeffe, Samuel Clemens and Nellie Bly were all as young and foolish as you once. We know them for the men and women they became. Become a name worth remembering.
The past is unchangeable, the future is unknowable. You live your life in the moment between them.
It takes guts to say “goodbye,” “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Become the bravest person you know.
Words can kill, so use them wisely. Speak honestly and slowly. Enunciate with conviction. Your words will bind you when all else is lost.
Ask for advice from your elders. The best is offered free of charge. Take what you need. When you are old, offer advice whenever asked.
Make a list of all the things you would say to young people. Change it whenever you see fit. Know that some people may forget it, others may ignore it, but a small handful may take your best lines, repeat them into memory and one day add them to their own list.
Christopher Fox Graham