Commencement — What I Wish Someone Had Told Me at My Graduation

I was invited to give the Commencement Address at Herzing University‘s December graduation last night.  It was one of those opportunities that came to me through a  series of unpredictable events (aka divine providence), but it meant I had just a few days to put together my thoughts for these graduates. I might have said something different if I had been given more time, but instead I just shared with them exactly where I’m living now. Check it out:


Good evening and welcome! I want to thank Jason for inviting me tonight. It is a deep honor for me to be among you, with your family and your friends and your partners and maybe even your children. I share with them deep pride in and inspiration by the dedication that got you here tonight. Please know that your work blazes a trail for everyone you meet – everyone who wants to make themselves better, their work better, and their world better. I want to a share a quote with you from one of my favorite authors, and it’s a quote I try to live my life by. Marianne Williamson says:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

As you move forward after your time here at Herzing, you have two choices. You can move towards joy, or you can move away from fear.

We all have fears – even fears that we are powerful beyond measure. That power in us can be intimidating, and it encourages us to take risks – and sometimes those risks lead to failure. I don’t know about you, but I’m deeply afraid of failing. I might have been a little afraid to get up here tonight, afraid of what you think of me, afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, or that I’ll let you down.

But I made a choice – not to move away from that fear, but instead towards the deep joy of sharing with you something I believe so strongly. I know each of you were afraid to begin your studies here, I know each of you had moments when you thought, “I can’t do this.” And I know each one of you made a choice, with great courage in the face of that fear, to move forward.

I think you already know what so many people don’t know – you can live a life that you fall more deeply in love with every single day.

A very wise person once told me: if you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

And you know what I mean by happy – I don’t mean pleasure; I don’t mean sit on the couch eating bon-bons and binge watching “Orange is the New Black.” When I say happy, I mean so excited to get up in the morning that you’re simply thrilled to be alive.

If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy.

Sometimes when I say this, people argue. They always say some variation of these two things: One, “I don’t know what makes me happy,” and two, “I’m not sure I can be happy.”

I think you graduates know – I think you already have an inkling of what makes you happy. And it’s what got you to this chair tonight. It’s what got you through all those tough assignments, group projects, and the moments when you thought you couldn’t do it.

And if you’re still not completely sure – keep trying. Keep trying things on in your life; take risks. Get curious about the things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid to find things that don’t make you happy – but for heaven’s sake stop doing those things!

If you want to be happy, do the things that make you happy.

If any of you, any of you, fall into that second group, with a deep doubt that it is possible to be that happy – to be in love with your own life – trust me when I say it’s possible.  It’s not just possible for some of us.  It’s possible for each of you.

I learned too late in life that I had a choice to believe this. I could change what I thought about myself and my life. I was not a prisoner of my past, and I could instead embrace my future. And that’s what got each of you here tonight. If you can’t quite believe now, let me believe it for you: You can have a life and work where you are rewarded for being your complete, authentic self, and you fall in love with your life a little more every day.

Just like any other lifelong relationship, you will have doubts. You will wake up some mornings and think: “I’m just not sure I can do this.” That’s normal. It’s actually a great sign – because it’s a sign you’re about to grow. And you already know that because of how many times you maybe thought it in the last few years.

My mom went to medical school when she was 40 years old and I was 6. She once said, “the amount you learn is directly proportional to how uncomfortable you are.” Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

And I know you already know something about this. You know what helps you. I want to share what helps me, and what helps the people I work with every day:

Breathe. They kick me out of yoga teaching if I don’t remind everybody to breathe. Your breath can’t lie – when you get nervous it gets short, quick, and hard. When you’re content or relaxed it’s slow, steady and expansive. So when you’re scared or nervous, slow your breath down. It will trick your brain into thinking you’re content and relaxed. Trust me, it works.

Pray. Americans have a lot of baggage around the word God, so I try not to say it very much. I encourage you to find a deep, abiding connection with a power greater than yourself. Connect to the mystery and the miracle that your heart continues to beat every minute of every day. Don’t be afraid to get quiet. That leads me to the next one:

Be Grateful. Give thanks for the good things in your life, focus on the things that you have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have yet. Your attention is one of the most valuable currencies you have: what you focus on grows. Remember and give thanks for the things that bring you joy. You might just find those things growing.

Be Kind. Be kind to people. Be kind to everyone. Even the people it’s hard to be kind to. I work with homeless drug addicts, corporate executives, and everyone in between. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: it doesn’t matter the circumstances of life, everyone is suffering. Be kind to the people you meet – everyone you meet. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

Laugh & Have Fun. Do things that make you laugh, just because they make you laugh. If you want to be happy, do things that make you happy. Laughter is like nature’s medicine – it’s also great ab work. Laugh as often as you can, and whenever possible, laugh with other people. Because the folks near you are struggling with all the same demons you are, and they need a laugh just as much as you do: maybe even more.

In closing, I want to say thank you. Thank you to your friends and your families for everything they did that got you here tonight. And thank each of you for not giving up when it got tough, but instead moving a little closer to your dreams every day.

The end of that Marianne Williamson quote I started with tonight is this:

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Congratulations. I can’t wait to see how each of you makes the world a little brighter.

Thank you, and good night.

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