It’s graduation season. Caps and gowns and sappy posts define the next month. I love it. I love graduation season because I’m corny and sentimental. Because I am endlessly starved for inspiration, and commencement addresses provide inspiration.
This is the commencement address I’d give myself one year out from my undergraduate commencement:
Marisa, today ends a chapter you waited your whole life to write. You’re experiencing writer’s block now. The prompts everyone has fed you have run out. You’re sitting in a sea of 11,000 people with a racing heart and frantic hands. This feeling will linger for five months. You don’t have to embrace it, but I hope you don’t waste the energy fighting it either. Like all dark and uncomfortable things, give it the space and sound it needs to announce it’s presence. All most sad things need is to be heard.
Being 22 is hard. Taylor Swift mislead you. In just under a year, you’ll be frustrated, humiliated, stressed, disconnected, lonely, vulnerable, pissed off, and despite everything, hopeful. Agonizing hope. Somehow, hope will underlie unemployment, moving, being hit by a low-speed car, your workplace catching on fire, loved ones disappointing you, and suicidal depression. You’ll miss the woman you once were. You’ll feel like you aren’t brave as you’re jumping into unknowns daily. In instagram posts, snaps, and reckless expectations of youth, you’ll hold yourself to other people’s standards. Stop. Don’t do it. At 22, you have no obligation to be inspiring or interesting or to have it all together. Screw inspiring! You are ordinary. You are fallible and fragile, and you deserve to live a wholehearted life. Disabuse yourself of romanticized exhaustion, work as life, that your resume matters more than you do. Stay deaf to anything that doesn’t keep you whole. And when you do fall apart– run to everything that awakens you. Trust me, good things will find you.
Stay bold. Stay brave. Remain vulnerable, even though you know that life will kick your ass. Your best talent is how you pick yourself up. It isn’t fair that I’m asking you to do this. Over and over, you will raise a mirror to the experience of your peers in the hope that your life matches their reflection. It won’t. Life doesn’t offer a comparison tool, and you’re going to wonder why you’re carrying a deck of half-torn cards while others have some limited-addition sparkling deck. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to it. Meaning is something we assign to all the things that don’t make sense. Meaning becomes powerful because we make it that way. How else do you explain why we still discuss astrology, knowing the Greeks constructed it to make sense of the stars? Pick your meaning. Don’t be afraid to change it if it no longer holds significance.
Your passions may not be profitable, and that doesn’t invalidate them. That’s not an excuse to give up on them either. Continue to write and sing and dance and fight for what sets your soul on fire. You have to pay your bills. You have to feed yourself. You have to address everyone with kindness and sincerity. But you have no obligation to compromise your morals or values for the sake of pay. You don’t have an obligation to curate your life for the comfort of others. None of your choices require an explanation. Your life is not a democracy. You’re the queen of it all.
Saying, “you’re going to be ok” is lazy, and kind of a lie. It may not always be ok. Still, your indomitable spirit transcends adversity. It has a million times before and will again. That’s why I’m still here. I believe in you. My faith rests in all the women I’ve been before and those I will become. Shitty as this year has been, I have survived every terrible day I’ve faced. Those are pretty spectacular odds. To my graduation self: you won’t have any more answers than on the day you graduated. You’ll have a way to pay your bills, the knowledge that you are loved, and some spectacular premonition that your purpose is being nurtured by these bruised days ahead. Congratulations, self of 2015. Go out into the world and do good.