The faculty speaker at my daughter’s recent high school graduation was uninspiring. No words of wisdom, no congratulations. Just a long speech about the environment. At one point, the woman behind us leaned over and said, “I’ll pay you if you can get her to stop.”
Giving a great graduation speech is a tall order. I delivered one when I was a teacher many years ago. It was hard to craft and hard to deliver. I’m sure that some (many?) in the audience gave me a passing grade at best.
Nevertheless, as I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would say to 400 eighteen-year-olds. As I thought about it, I recalled something I heard on a podcast. The speaker said that when she helps clients grapple with hard decisions, she asks them to answer two questions:
Will I regret doing this?
Will I regret not doing this?
This got me thinking. What, in the 35+ years since my own high school graduation, do I wish I hadn’t done? And what do I wish I had?
My list was long. Here are some highlights.
I regret …
Going to Germany rather than Morocco. As an exchange student in Italy, I had a week off. A group of girlfriends planned a trip to Germany. I joined them. When we got back, a classmate shared tales about his Moroccan adventure. He had asked me to join him, but it seemed kind of risky. So, I took the safer bet and missed the chance to go to Africa.
Selling our first house. The tiny rambler was too small for our family of four, but the location was unbeatable. We could walk to coffee, to the grocery store, to the lake, and to several parks. My husband and I spent 10 years on a variety of DIY projects to make it our own. It felt like home. We moved to a much bigger house in a more isolated, suburban neighborhood. Within four blocks on every side was a busy street. All of the neighbors had kids our age which brought with it a constant undercurrent of competition. I felt like I was suffocating.
Arguing with my oldest daughter about her grades. When she was in high school, we battled a lot. And honestly, we still do at times. I see my pressure as love. I know I’m wrong, but I have a really hard time letting it go. She likely sees it as trauma. And I suspect that impacts our relationship.
I regret not …
Applying to more colleges. There were no safety schools on my list. So, I attended the one university that accepted me. A few years in, when I knew that it wasn’t the best fit, I stayed. Later, I didn’t apply to law school even though it had been my childhood dream. My fear of not getting in paralyzed me.
Learning to live in the present. My mind is almost always elsewhere. As a result, my memories are dim. I have a quote on my desk that reads, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” I wish I could embrace that sentiment more fully.
Asking more questions. I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many amazing people. Each of them with a life story to tell. And yet, in these conversations, I often find myself talking more than listening. The amount of wisdom I have missed out on is tragic.
So, to my daughter and her fellow graduates, I’d simply offer this haiku:
Find your home and travel far.
Stay present. Seek peace.