I just finished my twenty-fifth year of teaching high school English. I spent the first 12 years with sophomores, but for the past 13, I’ve taught seniors. At the same time, because of my own life circumstances, I’ve acquired some pretty significant wisdom. In fact, if anyone asked me to give a graduation speech, this, right here, would probably be what I would say.
Commencement: the act or instance of BEGINNING; the granting of diplomas at the END of an academic year.
What an oxymoron.
Okay, whoops. Sorry. Oxymoron: a figure of speech which creates incongruity and contradiction, like “cruel kindness” or “jumbo shrimp.”
See it now?
Anyway, it really doesn’t matter how literally you want to take “commencement” or what it stands for.
Life is about beginnings and endings. Even though some things could just be means to an end, not ends in and of themselves. But at the end of the day, all good things must come to an end, and that’s just not the end of the world. After all, when one door closes, another one opens, right?
All clichés we believe in, live by, and preach. They must hold true.
But do they? Really?
I tend to believe that life folds one moment into the next, ever moving forward, braiding moments into one another, until before you know it, your youngest child, a handsome, witty, intelligent eighteen-year-old young man on the verge of the rest of his life has completed his last year of high school, graduating and leaving you, an educator of the school where both he and his sisters attended—a child (or children) there on the property with you for the last ten years—alone.
(I think I might be suffering from empty school syndrome.)
But it’s not an ending, really. Those who graduate are not finished visiting the school or attending school events (they always come back), and they are certainly—God knows—not done learning. They are not done communicating with their teachers or coaches or friends, and they are most certainly not done being made fun of, gossiped about, or held up by peer pressure.
At the same time, this doesn’t feel like a beginning, either. It wasn’t as if the graduates all woke up the day after graduation to something different than the few days they’d had since completing school before everyone else. Some slept in, some went to their summer jobs, and some sat around bored, playing video games and surfing social media, secretly wondering in the back of their minds if this was the way “adulthood” was supposed to feel. Sure, some will go on to further education and travel and careers, but there will be no switch flipped for that to begin. It will happen as everything else does: one moment morphing into the next, not stopping or pausing or waiting for anyone to say, “Okay, go! Now!”
So, this is my unsolicited “commencement” speech to anyone who’s ever graduated anything or had a New Year’s resolution or decided to start a diet on Monday. You will find out that life happens one moment at a time, no matter what you decide or how well you organize. There will be crazy course-changing moments, some random and some planned. There will be moments that make you and moments that break you. And there will be moments that force other moments to happen, splicing and intertwining until you can finally see how far you have come from whatever moment on the spectrum you choose.
And I think it’s best to be open to all of them, as long as you stay focused on one thing: becoming your ultimate best self, no matter the moments that happen.
“Since when,” he asked,
“Are the first line and last line of any poem
Where the poem begins and ends?”
― Seamus Heaney, Irish poet