Last week, I received a lovely note in the mail from the Assistant Principal at my former high school, asking me to be the commencement speaker for the 2011 graduation. I was beyond thrilled. My four years at this all-girls, Catholic high school were some of the best of my life; I just didn’t know it at the time. The heavy academic workload saw to that. Surrounded by some of the best and brightest the tri-state area had to offer, it was an intellectual hotbed of young women striving to be the best they could be. Seriously. I’m not joking. Many of us are still in touch years later and I am astounded by what these women have accomplished. Some are business executives; one is a doctor of theology and expert on the subject of medical ethics; another is the mother of five and grandmother of four; another works tirelessly on various fundraising activities, all on the volunteer level.
I have been thinking a lot about what wisdom I can impart to these young ladies and believe me, I’ll need every day of the next seven months to figure out what I want to say. Here are a couple of thoughts I’ve had. Feel free to add your own after you read this post. (I need all the help I can get!)
1. You’re thin enough, you’re beautiful enough, and gosh darn, you are smart enough. So stop sweating the small stuff! When I think back to my twenties and how I exercised for two hours every day and watched every morsel I put in my mouth, I shudder. I was slim, in excellent shape, with energy to spare, yet I criticized my own appearance every day when I looked in the mirror. As long as you’re healthy, you’re set. Enjoy your youth, because someone who is happy in their youth will look great as they age. (At least this is what I tell myself.)
2. Do it now. Whatever “it” is. Don’t put off gratification until a later date. I’m not heading down a morbid path here—although I could; I’m Irish after all—but there really is no time like the present. You’ll always make more money, there will always be time to work, but don’t underestimate the joy of travel, or writing, or singing, or dancing, or doing whatever it is that makes you happy. When we’re young, I think, we’re racing toward the next step in our lives instead of enjoying the life that we are leading at the time.
3. Don’t settle. For anything. Be it a husband, a wife, a job, a meal at a restaurant, you deserve the best and don’t let anyone tell you differently. You are the author of your story and it is up to you to make sure you live the best life you can.
4. Give back. Make sure that your life plan includes a healthy dose of volunteering, works for social justice, or just plain giving. Studies show that people who give back are healthier, happier, and may live longer. So look around, identify the need, and do something about it. The world will thank you for it.
Obviously, I’ll come up with more, but these are my top four for now. What words of advice would you give to a group of 18-year-olds, or to the 18-year-old who you once were?