Dear Class of 2016

It’s one of my long time dreams to speak at University or better yet, High School, graduation. I have no idea why. It’s not like I have a huge amount of wisdom to impart at my ripe-old-age of 37. Maybe it’s just this time of year when school lets out for summer and the weather turns hot and there’s graduation parties, watermelon, beach trips, barbecues and the feeling of freedom, despite that I’m still working a regular day job and summer is merely a season now, not a vacation. It’s with this nostalgia that I watch Ray’s students graduate, become adults and see the first families that made up “our band family” move on to the next chapter of their lives, hoping that we made a lifelong friend or twelve along the way.

That said, I figured, since this is my slice of the interwebs, and I can say what I want. Well, then I should.

To the class of the sweet ‘16…Enjoy whatever is next. If you’re going to college, study, but have a life. If you’re heading out to the workforce, work to live, not live to work. If you’re doing something else, embrace it with the same commitment as an occupation – for all of  these options may not be choices of our own, but they are the next step where our lives lead us. Treat them as an opportunity to learn, to evolve and become an even better version of yourself. The next years are the ones that truly take time to unfold – but will go by in a blink. You are entering a time in your lives that will shape you for the rest of your days. Just graduating doesn’t make you an adult, going through this transitional time, establishing yourself and your own place in the world as a citizen and contributor marks a new chapter.

You have two ears, one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak. There are so many experiences out there that you’ll never hear if you are only talking. When I was young, I spoke too much. I should have taken in so much more. Not only just the words of wisdom from folks around me, but also the experience of hearing silence of the moments around you. Take time to be mindful of the choices you make, the paths you drive down and people who you choose to take with you to the other side of this metamorphosis.

As you make your way through this new chapter, realize that your success in life will not award you a participation trophy.  Do more than show up to this next part of life. Contribute with marked effort to the world around you, make an impact. Leave the world a better place than where you started. Take pride in what you do, do those things that you are passionate about and provide a greater good to the communities you choose to serve .That should be enough. That, in itself, is your reward.

In closing, a short walk through my advice on life: Live big, you only get one chance. Be nice. Work hard. Love harder. Know that there is always someone who can do it better. Live gracefully. Pay it forward. Give the benefit of the doubt. Embrace whimsy. Respect both up and down the ladder. Treat everyone equally. Forget color, gender, race, creed or religion – embrace humanity. Live ethically. Own your decisions. Have a savings account and a retirement fund and a rainy day stash and an escape plan and save in that order for them. Take educated risks. Make your own way, don’t ride coattails. Learn something new every day. Make sure to have a hobby that isn’t work related. Travel. Learn a language. Everything in moderation. Don’t forget others’ needs or your own and not always in that order. Take photos. Give 110%. If you take the last cup of coffee, make a new pot. Follow your passion. Take part in the trends, but don’t forget the classics. The simplest answer is usually the right one. Stay grounded, but believe nothing is impossible. Pay your bills, but don’t get a credit card. Realize it’s never too late. Treat everyone as if they are fighting battles you know nothing of. Know that mean people will never succeed, even if you don’t witness their demise. and finally, if you aren’t doing what you know you were meant to do, listen to your gut, get out, and get going – you clearly have other places to be.

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