In 1995 I auditioned to be a speaker at my high school graduation. I wasn’t valedictorian or student body president. I was an almost-all-As student who thought I had something to say.
It’s been 25 years — a quarter of a century — and I thought it might be wise to revisit my words of wisdom and see if they were extremely off base or timelessly witty. You can be the judge and take what works for you.
Looking in a mirror I see a reflection of a person that time has molded. Each accomplishment, each rejection, each heartache, is sketched into my skin. In my eyes I see a reflection of yesterday and a promise of tomorrow. All the pushing and all the climbing are evidenced by where I stand today.
I obviously thought that I had lived SO MUCH LIFE in my 18 years. Of course, it really seemed so back then — before I knew living paycheck to paycheck, or marriage and children, or watching a parent die.
You will soon realize that the trials and tribulations that got you to this point are just the prologues for the rest of your life. Your definition is not yet complete.
Now we all stand together. It is like standing at the back of a crowded movie theater, looking for a place to sit. All the people behind us, supporting and pushing us, have gone on to another theater and we are left here to search for our seat in the world.
Throughout our lives people have pushed us — past boundaries, past expectations, and past goals. As a child we were driven into a routine of go-to-bed-at-8:00 o’clock, share-your-toys, and be-nice-to-your-brother; parents and guardians were constantly at our backs, steering us toward the right direction.
I remember this feeling well — the impending pressure of not having people to fall back on — forging my own way on unmarked trails. It hasn’t gone away completely but is rather replaced with other worries.
The secret is not in being fearless, but channeling any fear, worry, or anxiety into your goals for the future. There is no “right” direction. There are good and bad choices that take you down different paths, but never think because you are going in one direction that you can’t reroute and change course.
As athletes, artists, scholars, or adventurers we have been pushed. A great volleyball player once said, “Pushing is when…good isn’t acceptable and the chance to be great is just out of reach.” Now, as we leave the pushers behind and pull ourselves up to new heights, these memories will fuel our lives to reach for goals for the future.
You may have been a high school athlete or first chair violin in the orchestra. You may still be those things moving on to the collegiate level. There are many parallels to draw between those high school achievements and your future. Unlike high school, though, you can define greatness for yourself.
Your platform has just been raised. You are no longer confined to school boundaries or teacher expectations. Your measures of what it means to be “great” or what it means to be “successful” are yours. Don’t let others try to make them unattainable or, conversely, diminish them in any way.
We all remember such times as when we first entered high school for Freshman Orientation, the sports games and celebrations as we took another trophy, the day we became sophomores and left our freshman skin behind. We utilize the lessons we have learned about how sophomores are not so much better than freshman, and that getting a driver’s license does not always mean we get to drive. We stand amazed that we survived the ACT and braved Advanced Placement tests. We laugh at episodes that then seemed so trivial — like standing in six inches of rain to watch a football game.
We recall these times that, each day, will recede further into our memories, and we must use them to push ourselves in the future.
The best memories may fade but they don’t go away and they will inform your future decisions — good or bad. You are an amalgamation of your memories and experiences.
Use them. They may just be part of your prologue, but a prologue is important in setting the voice for the rest of your narrative.
The door of the movie theater closes. The lights down the aisle, guiding and directing us, represent our goals and plans. Big goals, small goals, and enormous goals. None of them are the same, none too realistic at this point, but all of them are offspring of other events we have achieved.
Looking once again at my image in the mirror, I see that everything behind me becomes blurry; and, as I search the eyes that stare back at me, everything comes into focus. I see my plans; I see my goals; I see the future.
So I was a bit naive when I was 18 — you’re probably the same way — it’s a privilege younger people don’t appreciate. I wish I knew now what I thought I knew then. These days I don’t know what tomorrow will look like.
My life did not necessarily take the path I thought it would. I’m not CEO of Coca-Cola or the first woman president. But I took risks and made choices that made me happy and the scenery on this path is gorgeous, too.
You will not be the person your 18-year-old self thinks you will be. You may disappoint yourself at times, but you will also surprise yourself. You will build off the foundation others have helped you establish and carve your own way forward.
Now is when you have to push yourself toward greatness.
“Pushing is when…good isn’t acceptable and the chance to be great is just out of reach,” but if we stick to what we have learned, and we push toward what we want, we can reach greatness.