On College and the “Real World”


At my college graduation, I was afraid because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I don’t remember what day it was, not even if it was in May or June.  Memory is a funny thing.  Often what you should remember you don’t, and what you shouldn’t remember, is clear as crystal.

The speaker was pretty bad, but it can’t be easy to write a graduation speech.  Test test, and you’re looking at ostriches with their heads in the sand.  You’re supposed to ignore the impending face slap, right?

I can’t speak for everyone, but when I graduated, I was a professional Coors Light drinker.  A humanities major with extensive experience in reading books.  And if one more person asked me what my post-college plans were, I was going to shave my head or start slinging narcotics purely out of spite.

If the Dean had a lobotomy and let me do the graduation speech, I don’t think I’d use anecdotes or sugar-coating.  I think I would tell the ostriches that there is only one choice to make.  We make a lot of decisions, of course, thousands every day.  But, I believe, there is one that runs like a current under all the others.

Whether we know it or not, we are always walking towards joy.  When we window shop or have sex, we are sailing towards it.  When you catch joy, it runs away because joy is just outside our windows.  It’s like farms and windmills.  You’re part of the light, the colors, yet they’re distant.  When you do catch up to joy, it shines light onto everything.  It’s in the first kisses against the kitchen counter.  There’s a net in your hand, readied to catch the joy when it flies, but for a moment, it’s there, and you can’t remember how hard it was for you to get happy.

Writing can be like trying to remember a moment that you forgot years ago.  There is nothing to say and it’s like Chinese water torture to sit there, putting word after word leaning on a shaky faith that it will eventually turn into something good.  But if I don’t keep trying, if I give up, I will have lost the only fight that matters.

If those thousands of camcorder-readied parents were listening to me, I would sorely disappoint them.  Here they are, waiting for nothing less than the vision they’ve carried around in their head spaces since they cut their kids’ umbilical cords.  They’re thinking of a shrinking financial burden, the real world that’s going crash down around their kid, and they think, “It’s time Suzy or Johnny grew up.  Suzy or Johnny is going to be a doctor, lawyer, or a CPA” – a success.

But Johnny and Suzy might not have the foggiest idea of what they want.  So I would tell Johnny and Suzy, and the rest of the ostriches: it’s okay to not know.  But when you do know, when you feel like you want to try something, try it.  When you have to choose between known and unknown, safe and secure, choose the latter.  If deep in your bones an “if only” floats around, go for it.

If you go for the “if only” dear ostriches, you will constantly have to remind yourself of who you are and what you are meant to do.  Uncertainty will latch itself to your shoulder and it will never let go.  I can’t tell you it will get easier because it never does.  But I can tell you it will be worth it.  THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.  Because when you are taking your last breaths, you will have the luxury of knowing you did everything you could.  You spent every last part of yourself.

There will be naysayers, you can count on that.  Beat them away with your pen, your camera, your labor of love of choice, and don’t give them credence.  Don’t compare yourself to others, and for that matter, don’t take yourself too seriously.  But do take your dreams seriously.

We are blessed to be young.  We are fortunate to have two paths in front of us wanting of our choosing.  And if I do anything right, if I do one thing right ever, I hope that it’s, over and over again, taking the rockier road.  Because I am not interested in living a life I will regret later.   It scares me every day because it’s a damn hard choice.  But at my core, I know it’s the right one.

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