This is the graduation speech I delivered to my English class about a month ago for my final project.
Good morning, my dear peers.
Within a few months, all of us will be starting a new chapter of our lives. Some of you have already decided what career you’d like to pursue or what field you’d like to study. And some of you, even now, might not know exactly what you want to do with your life or what career you’d like to pursue—and I think that’s completely OK.
I interviewed Mr. Demek at the end of my sophomore year and discovered that he went from being a soldier and Chinese translator to a government employee to a person who worked odd job to odd job to someone who finally discovered that teaching history was his calling. Hearing him talk about how much he loved his job and how he had never looked back since taking up teaching, I was more convinced than ever that doing what you love is the only way to truly live and be happy. Anyway, at the end of my junior year, in my exit interview, Demek brought up the fact that I was asleep in his class 70% of the time—which is something I’m not proud of admitting, but it’s the truth. Clearly my mind and my heart were elsewhere. When I confirmed that they were in newspaper, which was what was most important to me at the time, he said, “Well—keep doing what you’re doing, then,” which to this day still means writing, designing, photographing—and, of course, sleeping in history class.
Like Anaïs Nin said, “You have a right to experiment with your life. You will make mistakes. And they are right, too. No, I think there was too rigid a pattern. You came out of an education and are supposed to know your vocation. Your vocation is fixed, and maybe ten years later you find you are not a teacher anymore or you're not a painter anymore. It may happen. It has happened...I think we have a right to change course. But society is the one that keeps demanding that we fit in and not disturb things. They would like you to fit in right away so that things work now.”
One of the things I hated the most growing up, and even now, was how adults loved to speak to me patronizingly, as if they were entitled to act as though they knew everything and therefore automatically knew what was best for me. They don’t—not always. Sometimes you know what is best for yourself—so let no one—especially not society—define your life but yourself. You are the sole judge and determiner of your own vision, values, worth, self, and capabilities.
I am no wiser or more foolish than any of you, but I believe that our future largely depends on how we think and how we live. You can never know for certain how your future will turn out and you never know who or what you might fall in love with—but listen to and follow your heart—even if it’s saying the most incredibly absurd things you’ve ever heard of.
Tell me where the possibilities of excelling sound greater: when you’re stuck in a job you’re not particularly good at and aren’t fond of, or when you’re in a career where you’re happy and lovin’ it. All the signs point toward going with the path that speaks to your heart. Therefore, I believe that it’s important and best to go with the career that makes your heart sing because, chances are, you’re going to throw yourself into it with everything that you’ve got—at least more so than when you’re stuck with a job or career you dislike. Also, I’m naturally assuming that whatever you happen to love to do is also what you tend to be good at doing. For me, this is the arts/creative field. I would never make a top-rate surgeon or doctor or what have you. I’d just be second-rate. I’d never be the fuckin' best, and that would suck, because guess what—I’d be hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Worse—on top of that, I could end up accidentally killing someone or prescribing the wrong medicine or making the wrong diagnosis and have more than just a couple lawsuits on my head. So I’m going to leave the doctoring to the people who are meant to become doctors and instead focus on what I do best.
The key, I think, is to find what you’re good at and passionate about and incorporate it into your life—whether it’s through service, school, personal projects, and whatnot. I originally intended to head straight to New York for college, but much to my parents’ relief, I’ve decided to take a detour due to skyrocketing college costs (the rates in New York are absolutely extortionist): I’m going to develop, refine, and improve my craft at VCUarts for four years and save a ton of money along the way so that I can eventually live in New York City for a significant portion of my life working, ideally, as an art director for a design firm, fashion house, or publication; or perhaps I’ll freelance in the creative industry as a graphic designer, photographer, and journalist. For me, the only way to live is to go big or go home. My definition of living the dream is being happy doing what I love to do and being the best (or one of the best) at it. As to how I’ll go about doing that—I’m gonna keep calm, give life my all, carry on, and we’ll see what happens.
Ironically, much of my philosophy and way of life has been inadvertently influenced by my parents. Their philosophy is the exact opposite of mine—I am radical whereas they are rigid. They believe that there is a formula to success and happiness: pursuing a lucrative career (e.g. being a doctor) which will offer a six-figure paycheck. They are no-nonsense and I am prone to laughter. I often muse about what I’ve therefore learned from my parents considering how drastically different we think and live. The answer is pride and respect—for one-self and others where it is due and deserved. I was raised to greet all of my elders and superiors upon seeing them, which may seem rather trivial and more of a nuance, but honestly, I think the way you interact with people and the way you address (or fail to address) them speaks volumes about the level and quality of your character. Also—people think I’m joking when I say this—but I’m totally serious—from my family, I learned to appreciate the finer foods in life. Food is of paramount importance to my family, so trust me when I say we know food.
Anyway, enough about me. I’ve had a swell time talking about myself and my philosophy, but at the end of the day, your vision must be your own. I know of several people who enjoy talking the talk, but to me, it’s more about walking the walk. I’m not exactly a licensed advice-giver considering I have my own life to live out—plus I never believed in those phony self-help books anyway—so I’m ending my spiel with two quotes about two different directions.
In the words of Doe Zantamanta: “It’s never too late to turn it all around. Be honest with yourself and others. If anything you’re doing in life is not what you should be doing…stop. Life is way too short to continue in the wrong direction, and the longer that you do, the less time you will have to travel in the right direction.”
When you have finally found the right direction for you—do as Thoreau said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”