But they did--if by the skin of their teeth, to go by the endless emo moments they displayed as they hurdled final exams, last-minute papers, inflexible professors and the thousand other minutiae that went with saying goodbye to school--in this case, the UP College of Engineering.
They had reason to worry. Theirs is known to be a particularly tough college to crack. But that they did crack it, despite all those late-night SMS and calls to us their friends expressing anguish at one more setback on the way to a photo-finish graduation, is cause for genuine joy.
You did it, CokskiBlue and JoeBreaker! Congratulations!
Your ears must be overstuffed by now with well-meaning words of advice from everyone, friend and kin alike, on how to conduct yourselves in the new world you're entering and, in fact, creating. It's also not far-fetched to assume that you've read snatches of popular commencement addresses that have been bouncing around the Net. Those by Oprah Winfrey and Conan O'Brien quickly come to mind.
Don't roll your eyes now, but here's another one I'd like to share with you--if only because, 17 years ago when it was my turn to don the toga (no UP sash for us), these words struck a chord with me. I hope they do the same with you.
They're by Alan Alda, an actor quite unfamiliar to us now, and he spoke these words at his daughter's graduation from Connecticut College in May 1980. I read this speech way before I myself finished college--as a young boy poring through my lolo's old copies of Reader's Digest--but so impressed was I with its warmth and humanity that I ripped the pages from the Digest and kept them with me. They're still here.
We are all gathered at a doorway today. It's the end of something and the beginning of something else...
Don't be scared. You're being flung into a world that's running about as smoothly as a car with square wheels. It's okay to be uncertain. You're an adult in a time when the leaders of the world are behaving like children. Where the central image of the day is a terrorist one: humane concerns inhumanely expressed. And the only response to this is impotent fury. If you weren't a little uncertain, I'd be nervous for you.
Adulthood has come upon you suddenly and you're not all that sure you're ready for it... But as much as it's true that time is a thief, time also leaves something in exchange. With time comes experience, and however uncertain you may be about the rest of the world, at least about your own work you will be sure.
Love your work. If you always put your heart into everything you do, you really can't lose. Whether you wind up making a lot of money or not, you will have had a wonderful time, and no one will ever be able to take that away from you.
I want to tell you to keep laughing. You gurgle when you laugh. Keep gurgling. Be sure to gurgle three times a day for your own well-being. And if you can get other people to join you in your laughter, you may help keep this shaky boat afloat. When people are laughing, they're generally not killing one another.
It's a complex world. I hope you'll learn to make distinctions. A peach is not its fuzz, a toad is not its warts, a person is not his or her crankiness. If we can make distinctions, we can be tolerant, and we can get to the heart of our problems instead of wrestling endlessly with their gross exteriors.
Once you make a habit of making distinctions, you'll begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won't come in. If you challenge your own, you won't be so quick to accept the unchallenged assumptions of others. You'll be a lot less likely to be caught up in bias or prejudice or be influenced by people who ask you to hand over your brains, your soul or your money because they have everything all figured out for you.
Be as smart as you can, but remember that it's always better to be wise than to be smart. And don't be upset that it takes a long, long time to find wisdom because nobody knows where wisdom can be found. It tends to break out at unexpected times like a rare virus and mostly people with compassion and understanding are susceptible to it.
Life is absurd and meaningless--unless you bring meaning to it, unless you make something of it. It is up to us to create our own existence.
No matter how loving or loved we are, it eventually occurs to most of us that deep down inside, we're all alone. When the moment comes for you to wrestle with that cold loneliness, which is every person's private monster, I want you to face the damn thing. I want you to see it for what it is, and win.
When I was in college, 25 years ago, the philosophy of existentialism was very popular. We all talked about nothingness; but we moved into a world of effort and endeavor. Now no one much talks about nothingness; but the world itself is filled with it.
Whenever that sense of absurdity hits you, I want you to be ready. It will have a hard time getting hold of you if you're already in motion. You can use the skills of your profession and other skills you have learned here, dig into the world and push it into better shape.
There's plenty to keep you busy for the rest of your life. I can't promise this will ever completely reduce that sense of absurdity, but it may get it down to a manageable level. It will allow you once in a while to bask in the feeling that, all in all, things do seem to be moving forward.
I want you to be potent; to do good when you can, and to hold to your wit and your intelligence like a shield against other people's wantonness. And above all, to laugh and enjoy yourself in a life of your own choosing and in a world of your own making. I want you to be strong and aggressive and touch and resilient and full of feeling.
Laugh at yourself, but don't ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don't leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory.
Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll be discover will be yourself.
(Part 2 coming up)
PLUS: A complete version of Mr. Alda's speech here, along with 29 other important commencement addresses by the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Toni Morrison, Bono, Desmond Tutu, The Dalai Lama, Vaclav Havel, Margaret Atwood, Gloria Steinem and John F. Kennedy, et al.
PLUS PLUS: What's a soaring speech without a stirring soundtrack? Here's the perfect song--composed by Susan Werner, sung by Lee Lessack and Michael Feinstein. Yes, Joe and Coy (and your co-graduates as well), I do suggest this is the best part of your lives.
MAY I SUGGEST?
May I suggest, may I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life
May I suggest, this time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
Just turn your head, and you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why, why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a world that’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A tender lover’s smile, a tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest, yes I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a hope that’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith that they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know, inside you'll understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest, and I suggest to you
And I suggest this is the best part of your life
This is a song, comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request, with a request of you
To see how very short these endless days will run
And when they’re gone, and when the dark descends
Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light
And I suggest, and I suggest to you
Yes I suggest this is the best part of your life.