You’re going to be getting a lot of advice in the next few weeks, and maybe even a bit beyond that, that is if it hasn’t already started. I’d like to offer my two cents. Graduating is a major life event. If you’re the first in your family, a returning student, or an individual who for the first time will be identifying themselves without the usual “student” adjective, graduation changes how you see yourself and the world. For many of you right now, you’re counting days, focusing more on last assignments and tests. First, take a moment to pause and truly look at what you’ve accomplished. Sure, we could measure it in years, in grades, or even stress levels, but the reality is the full measure of education is immeasurable because it’s a never ceasing investment in how you move forward. Graduating, whether it’s as an undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate is an infinite expansion of the world as you know it. Pursuing degrees and passions have infinite possibilities because when you lay down at night you see the world for what it can be. What beautiful dreams those can be.
So how do you move forward? There are plenty of well wishes who will quote the famous poem by Mother Teresa “Anyway.” That’s a good start. More will tell you to follow your dreams, different ways to change the world, and how this moment will be the beginning. Take your second moment here. First, breathe, because taking on the world is a big step. A lifelong step, and truth be told, if we look at it through this goal, you might find yourself disappointed. Not because you won’t make changes in this world, but that’s a tall order that many of us will never get to see a truly objective view of. Instead, realize that just as there are different sizes of infinity, so are there different sizes of changing the world. I once had a professor who loved to say, “everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to help with the dishes.” It’s a good reminder that every action we do has effects. You can change someone’s world by rolling up your sleeves and doing the dishes.
The other day one of my students asked me what my favorite part about teaching was. I said the students. It was the first time I’ve gotten a laugh all semester. It was also the first time I wasn’t joking. It’s no secret that I teach on top of other jobs and academic pursuits, often giving up nights or weekends to do so, so I can understand why people might wonder “why?” It’s simple as it is complex, I see infinity in your eyes. You’re limitless in the possibilities of what you can do. Graduating is only the first one. I come alive in front of my classes, and my goal is to spark something, anything really in those who choose to sit in my class. I’ve never cared whether it’s an interest, idea, a hobby, a career, or a passion. Sometimes it takes people on paths away from the profession that I’m teaching for and that’s okay.
Unlike many, I’m not going to tell you all that you can do, you know that already, and if you don’t yet, you will as you go out into the world and find your place in it. You’ll see those changes, and you’ll have to make countless decisions to which I can’t in any way prepare you for in one short “lecture.” Perhaps I’ll humor you with a book one day. Until then, let me ask you to do one thing. Just one. In truth, it matters little to me which path you choose to make you happy, it won’t hurt my feelings if you forget me, or my class, or any particular part of your education, because that knowledge is just one part of the education, learning never stops, so why should I worry if you forget the difference of two theories, or if you can’t recite from memory how to find a confidence interval? Instead, what I ask of you is a commitment to act regardless of those life decisions you make. I ask of you to be kind. Above all else, simply be kind. Of course, it’s never simple, and in fact, it’s one of the most underrated and most difficult to master qualities we attach to others or ourselves. We want to be smart, funny, charming, confident. We long to be fun, respected, and even loved. It’s easy to make choices based on these, and maybe even based on the most logical solution. I’m instead asking you to put kindness first. Because if ever you must choose to act, who to be. If it ever comes down to a choice, and it always will, I don’t care if you end up on the losing side, or the easier side; I want you at the end of the day to be able to say that regardless of outcome, you were kind.
You’ll find, if you take up this challenge, that the world starts changing around you, molding to fit those views that you dreamed of. It’s not just about being the light in the darkness, it’s about coming alive to burn brighter. There will always be those who stand in your way, tell you it’s impossible, or make you doubt yourself. You only get one chance to write your story onto the history of this world. If despite the barriers you can say that you are who you are meant to be, the world will never be the same. And it all starts with you choosing to embrace that infinity within you that always lights up my life, it then stays by choosing to be kind.
So go out, and do good. And above all, be kind.