Good Morning Graduates!!
I love graduation!It is such an honor to be able to speak with you today.
Thank you Dr. L and Dr. S for inviting me.
Welcome to our faculty
(whom, I’m representing—don’t be too scared),
To the parents, families, and friends of our guests of honor,
and, of course, our wonderful graduates!
I have the best job in the world. I get to learn with these amazing students, watch them accomplish wonderful things, and then celebrate them as we send them off.
Combine that with the fact that I’m Italian and you might get some tears today. In fact, my students have bets on how far I will get into this talk before I start bawling about them leaving. Start your timers.
Today, my alleged “words of wisdom” are not, “reach for the stars” or “Oh, the places you will go” or, certainly not, “you’re special.” They are:
2. Life is uncertain
4. Don’t try to be “happy” and
Don’t worry. I’ll elaborate.
Embrace opportunities to make mistakes. Without the possibility of failure, we have no room to grow or to learn new things.Inherent in learning are the mistakes that come with it.
This semester, my capstone students talked a lot about “negative feedback”. (shout out!) There is this perception that if you aren’t perfect, if you have room to improve, there is something wrong with you.
As teachers we feed into this, too. If a student says something wrong in a class discussion, we say, “Well, that could be right.” Or “I see what you mean” or some other innocuous statement, ensuring that the student won’t come into contact with the word,“wrong.” And why? Why is it such a big deal to be wrong? In particular, why would it be so horrible to be wrong about something that you are just learning?If you’ve never been wrong in a class before, you should have taken a harde rclass!
We need to get away from the idea that being wrong is so terrible, so aversive, that we try to avoid it at all costs.
The end of college is just the beginning of your life long-learning adventure. Don’t avoid things that are difficult or that you aren’t good at yet. Life will get really boring.
And, if you can’t fail, please be average.
For most of the things we try in life, we will be spectacularly average. We’ll be really good at a few things, really terrible at a few things, and average at a bunch of things.
Try enough things that you are average a lot of the time.
Don’t avoid doing something that is fun, useful, or that interests you just because you aren’t at the top of the heap.
Don’t think of this as depressing. Embrace this idea for what it is—the freedom to explore.
Paraphrasing Steinbeck, because you don’t have to be perfect at everything, you won’t be paralyzed by that burden. You can just go out there and do something good.
2. Life is uncertain
Most things in life are not guaranteed. And, contrary to how some of you feel, you aren’t deciding your entire life’s path today. Whether you think you’ve lined up the perfect job after graduation, or you’ve picked the perfect graduate school, or you have no idea what you will be doing in the next few months except completing job applications (ALL THE JOB APPLICATIONS!).
In reality, no one really knows what life is going to bring us next or how our interests might change as we gain new experiences.
When I was 22, the possibility of becoming a teacher was not on my radar. I never thought I would get married. I never thought I would have children. Now, “mom”, “wife”, and “teacher” are primary aspects of how I would define myself. In fact, many of you know my kids better than you know me.
The point is, you just don’t know.
Don’t close yourself off to possibilities that your future self would fall in love with.
When students are talking with me about their future plans there is this sense that, if they just make the right decision, about graduate school or about the right job, life will be fine. And if they pick the wrong thing, life will be ruined.
But, “One does not simply plan the perfect life.” And, even the best of planners will have to deal with uncertainty.
You will often have to learn to sit in the grey, and understand that uncertainty is part of all of this (Thanks, Kim).
But, this is a good thing. We are fortunate that there are always choices to make. I’m asking myself the same question today that many of you are asking yourselves, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?”
The answer to this question evolves as you grow older and as you change your interests and focus, but the question will always remain.
And there are many paths to a wonderful and fulfilling life, all of which are lined with missteps and mistakes, triumphs and joys.
Stay feisty. One of the beautiful things about being around college students is the passion that they have for so many causes and life in general. I think it’s a great perk of my job to be around people with fresh ideas and fresh passions, optimist advocates who want to make a difference.
But, sometimes it’s pretty difficult to stay feisty. To keep fighting for a cause that we believe in. We see things on Twitter and Facebook daily that make us want to get involved, but then a grumpy cat meme shows up,and we forget what we were fired up about.
But one day, you will take up a banner and fight for something you believe in.
There is a real challenge in staying appreciative for what you have, and the opportunities that you were given, and at the same time maintaining the desire to make a difference in the world.
Too much of one, you can become complacent.
Too much of the other, and you can become bitter about how much needs to change.
4. Don’t try to be“happy”
Hang in with me on this one, ok?
We often talk about making decisions that make us happy, but that’s easier said than done. We can confuse what will make us happy with what makes us happy right now, or what is fun right now.
What we do know is that people are more satisfied with their lives when:
· They are challenged
· They are doing something they believe has purpose and value
· When they focus on the needs of others, rather than themselves.
People might be happier in the moment when they choose something easy and fun, but it doesn’t really make us satisfied with our lives.(Think of that class you took because you looked it up on Rate My Professor and saw that it was easy…)
You might not (and you probably won’t) have that perfect job right out of college. But even if you don’t have all of this in your job at first, don’t stop seeking it out. Find challenge, purpose, and a way to help others in another pursuit.
5. And finally, Quit.
Quit. Quit doing things that you don’t find interesting or valuable just because it’s something you are “supposed” to do.
Quit. Quit waiting for someone else to tell you what you need to know or what you need to do, what you should be doing. Hopefully,during your time here, you didn’t just learn facts, but you learned how to learn and think on your own.
Quit. Quit comparing yourself to others.
Don’t decide what you should do with your life based on someone else’s “perfect”, someone else’s definition of success.
Remember that, if we are lucky, “This race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”(Mary Schmict)
I have learned so much from you all. And not just about SnapChat and the meaning of “Biddie”, although I still don’t really understand that one. You always remind me to have fresh eyes when I’m looking at problems, to remember what it is like to learn something for the first time.
I hope you keep that curiosity and pass it on to others. I hope you relax and find joy in whatever you choose to do.
And let me offer you one more piece of advice. You love your school? You love JMU? And this time in your lives has been special, right?
But don’t let your love for your time here at JMU and the specialness of your experiences blind you to all the joys yet to come.
There are wonderful things yet to experience, and you will always have a home here at James Madison.
Dr. Tracy Zinn
Graduation Speech (College of Health & Behavioral Studies—JMU 2013)
This speech has a lot of relevance in my life, and I think it has relevance for others. Dr. Zinn is a great professor, and running off of the previous post from “Meet the Robinson’s”, I want to spread this to as many of you as possible.
I’m happy to have graduated from JMU, and I am glad that I was a Psychology Major, therefore being exposed to amazing people. Take this speech, share it, learn from it. That’s what I plan on doing.
P.S. She started to cry when she said James Madison would always be a home, and so did I.