Sage advice for the class of 2012
Updated: May 16, 2012 4:27PM
So I’m sitting at my daughter’s graduation at the University of Illinois, listening to the commencement address, and all I can think of is John Lennon.
The professor is talking about the oneness of humanity. She has already quoted John Donne (you know, “No man is an island”), William Blake, Einstein, Neitzche and others on how we are all connected.
Somewhere along the line, I start to lose my focus. I think it was when she was advising that sacrifice is a gift to humanity and gave, as an example, the Hindu holy men who sleep in a 5-by-5 space so someone else can have space.
That may be a wonderful thing, but after four years of college and thousands of dollars already sacrificed, I’m poised for a little bit different message.
That’s when I began hearing in my mind: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together, goo goo g’joob.”
Is that terrible? Have I become that jaded over the years?
Seriously, what should one say at a commencement?
Mary Schmich, the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, probably said it all when she advised graduates to “wear sunscreen” in her famous column that somehow became attributed to Kurt Vonnegut.
Good advice, certainly. But by now, we’ve trained kids pretty well to wear sunscreen.
So what else is there?
Lessons from Tennyson
On this type of occasion, I think of a quote from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “Ulysses”: “I will drink Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d/Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those/That loved me, and alone.”
Graduates are embarking on their life’s journey. Who knows where it will take them, where it will lead. My wish is that they will enjoy all times of life greatly, as Tennyson says, even suffering greatly because that is part of life.
May they spend those times with those they love, but if they must be alone, so be it. Sometimes there is greatness in striving alone.
Tennyson advises not to waste time or our talent:
“How dull it is to pause, to make an end,/To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!”
He encourages us never to give up, to always carry on:
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
I find the poem quite inspiring. I would advise you to go read it. I like the idea of not giving up, not settling in life.
And if you decide on a life of sacrifice so the rest of humanity can have more, then go out and do that, too. But give it everything you’ve got. Don’t contribute to the Audobon Society when you’ve got two cars in the garage and think you’ve done all you can for the environment.
Because when you drink life to the lees, no matter what you wish to make of life, you will know what it means to be human.