We’re in the midst of another graduation season and somehow the invitations to speak and influence our leaders of tomorrow never arrived in my mail. Or email. Or by text. Twitter maybe? Nope. And not even a phone call.
Uh…hello out there. Obviously, there are problems with the providers of these communications services.
Nevertheless, this has been a remarkable year and it’s only June. A serious pandemic, anger regarding injustice, lives lost through violence and stupidity, the life savings, businesses, and tremendous financial losses suffered by neighbors, friends, community members, and ourselves, all seem very difficult, if not impossible to overcome.
I share these thoughts with the hope they will help provide some keys for success – you define your own success, by the way – to this Class of 2020 that had to grow up too quickly.
1) “There are two races of men in this world, but only these two — the “race” of the decent man and the “race” of the indecent man. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society. No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.” Expressed by Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the concentration camp known as Auschwitz. (I sincerely hope you learned about this in World History.)
When you make value judgments about people based on race, religion, sex, gender identification, age, nationality, wealth, education, or any criteria other than that person’s decency, you are putting yourself in the race of the “indecent man.” This is a non-starter for the rest of your life.
2) “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Obviously, despite the strides we have made as a nation, we’re not here yet. Sadly, racism, crime, disease, bullying, corruption – none of these can ever be completely eliminated. They have existed throughout history and in every society. However, you can always strive for improvement, and improving yourself first is a prerequisite for societal change.
3) “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” Attributed by some to Thomas Paine, spoken by many.
Progress and change happen regardless of your personal preferences. You can choose to participate in this great democracy of ours. It has its flaws, but do you really admire another nation that has fewer flaws than ours? You can find people of good character or help bring about change through constructive action that does not include violence. Sure, some may argue, violence can bring about change too – but once started, it is difficult to control, and let’s be honest, it’s evil. And finally, you can choose to simply live the best life you can based upon your own capabilities and limitations. Following your likes and interests is certainly a way to be happy.
4) “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Do not expect it from cheap people.” Warren Buffet
Your education is far from over. The tremendous volume of money ‘invested’ by people and organizations in their attempts to influence your vote, belief system, and action is bottomless. This cheapens our system and the messengers. Be skeptical of advertising and even your formal education, you’re simply a targeted consumer to most of these organizations. Be even more skeptical of the “news.” Lack of context in a story, the blatant omission of important details that do not support the reporter’s/organization’s own bias, or outright lies are very common. Aside from providing this note of caution, I wish I could tell you what to do instead, but I’m at a loss. I do, however, look for inconsistency and hypocrisy to gauge the trustworthiness of the news source.
5) “Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.” Ellen DeGeneres
Be the trailblazer if you want and when you can, although it’s also okay to not be the person stretching boundaries. Some of us are born, some of us choose through our hard work, and some of us are lucky enough to be the next Michael Jordan, or Lady Gaga, or Elon Musk. Good for them – and us as recipients of their work! But it’s more important for you to be you, even if you like to wear clogs around the house.
Class of 2020, there’s much I still have to share with you, but I need to take a break and see if anyone is inquiring about my availability for next year’s graduating classes.
Be well – be safe – be kind – be humble – ask questions – listen – and skate to where the puck is going.
My name is Mason Harris. I’m working on my next book, ‘The Chutzpah Rules’ (working title). I enjoy working with organizations whose employees would benefit from applying more chutzpah in today’s competitive world, and I love public speaking despite never having been asked to address a graduating class, not even my kids’ pre-school graduations.