Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Time Is Now

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?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Be kind and don't close your mind and heart with judgment, especially the early form: prejudice. You know plenty, you'll learn plenty more, but you'll never know everything and that's really good.

    Do something new whenever you can. I don't mean just the "gee, I've never eaten escargot, I'll try it tonight" kind of adventure. I also mean that when you create and do, try to add to the culture with something new and not just fall in line recreating over for your generation the same thing your parents and their parents and so on experienced during their youth. Nothing is new under the sun really isn't the whole truth, or at least it shouldn't be.

    Good luck with the speech, Mags, but you don't need it much. Just have a blast doing this. It's a very nice honor just full of chances for fun and inspiration.

  2. I attended Challenge Day yesterday at my middle schoolers school. It was an emotional and powerful day for many people. One of the core messages comes from Ghandi (and has always been a favorite quote of mine): Be the change you wish to see in the world. The take this idea and say to:


    Notice what's going on around you, how people are behaving, what you think about it, what injustices you see, etc

    Choose what you are going to do or how you are going to react. You have the power to choose.

    Act on your choice (or not).
    I loved this message because it's so simply, and the very idea that we make thousands of choices every day, and that every choice has a consequence, is powerful in and of itself.

  3. Maggie, you're going to be such a wonderful commencement speaker!

    I would've told myself not to drink so much Tab (ugh!) or try so many weird diets, just to fit someone else's image of what's beautiful. To focus on being smart, because smart lasts a lot longer (and is a lot more valuable) than pretty. To stop worrying about wanting to please the whole world because you will never succeed. And to live my own life, not someone else's idea of what my life should be.

  4. These are great ideas! Do I have permission from all of you to crib? :-) Maggie

  5. You have my permission to crib from me. Although you might have to explain what "Tab" is if you mention that one. I think they stopped making it years ago when it was declared "toxic waste." ;-)

  6. Oh how wonderful - both the experience of going to this school and then to come back as a speaker - what a dream come true!

    As an adult Catholic convert, I would say something about listening to the small voice that leads you to where God is calling you - use the gifts God has given you.

    Will be looking forward to your post telling us how it went - in 7 months or so. :)

  7. What an honor and fantastic opportunity! You had some great answers as did everyone else.

    Though I was told I ought to be a teacher it made me not want to be one, though I've done plenty of teaching throughout my life.

    Because husband was an active duty Seabee for 20 years, I was left to run the household, worked, take care of five kids and soon learned I could do about anything I wanted or needed to do.

    Best of look with this great adventure.


  8. Sorry for the digression, but for Susan:

    We have a cousin who still brings her case of Tab to every party/outing, etc., because it's been her drink of choice for about 40+ years! How funny. Like you, I gave that one up ages ago and it's always a treat to tell the young women I know that "Tab w/lime, please" was the running order. Now it seems "Iced Tea, please" is the standard when dining out.

  9. Vicky, I am laughing as I read your comment. So, so true!

  10. Maggie, your advice is spot on perfect!
    When asked, I encourage my young nieces and nephews to seek adventure, make mistakes, and be messy.