In June, I had the privilege of delivering the graduation address to my old high school, W.C. Miller Collegiate, in the heart of the Canadian prairies. The ceremony took place in the town’s hockey arena, and while the town itself has a population of 4,000, 500+ attended, many fighting beads of sweat as they fought the summer heat.
Here is that 7-minute speech, one of the most nostalgic moments of my life…
Good morning graduates, Miller Staff, family, and friends…
Please know that when I say it’s an honour to be here today, I mean it in every sense of the word. This town. This community. Miller. All formative parts of my youth as they have been for you and so many others before us.
Being the son of the town barber of 40 years, I feel that, in ways, I’ve never truly left Altona. My father has had many of you in his chair. In fact, he’s had many of your parents and grandparents in his chair at some point, too. Oddly, this might be one of those occasions where I know as much about the audience as they know of me.
But don’t worry, this is NOT a roast or an exposé in any way. I was told that approach was off limits… and that’s reasonable.
Back in 1995, I sat where you are. I remember that day as clearly as any. It ranks somewhere in between the birth of my daughter and the day I discovered schmonfat gravy (a local delicacy). Like you, I sat amongst my peers and my best friends, who are still my best friends 25 years later.
As valedictorian, I had to give a speech then, too. So, my 18-year-old palms were soaking. Beyond the stress, thoughts about my future and the future of my classmates bounced around my brain.
A judge gave the address to my class that day. And I remember thinking, “Wow, we have a bonafide adult here.” She seemed so put together. Her title, her grace, it all seemed so foreign to me. It got me wondering what I’d be doing 20 or 30 years from now.
The truth is, on a day like this, it’s impossible to know.
Some of you will have cool jobs. Some of you will have families. Some of you will travel to far away places or even live in exotic cities.
My point is this: there is beauty in the unknown, that uncertain void sowed with doubts like, What if I don’t figure out what to do? What if I don’t like university?What if I can’t make new friends. What if I’m not successful?
And I could quote some famous authority on the matter to bring you some calming perspective; something from Socrates, Martin Luther King, or a former Prime Minister, but instead I want to share this with you…
A month or so ago, I interviewed a couple of hikers for my podcast, the purpose of which is to inspire people to build a more active life. These women, named Mary-Anne and Vicky, shared what they enjoyed about hiking and why. They loved unplugging from society and hitting their favorite trails, many of them nestled among the peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
Now, interviewing is one of my most favorite things to do because, our lives, if anything, are a mosaic of stories. I still geek out on people talking about their passions.
But sometimes I make an irritating mistake. It’s a rookie mistake really. I turn the mic off too early. And, in classic fashion, after the interview with my guests was complete, I shut down my equipment and started packing up.
Of course, one of the hikers, took this time to open up further. Something dawned on her and she had to share it. She said:
“The thing about hiking is you can’t bet on the summit. There could be fog or rain. Sometimes, there’s a lot of garbage. Sometimes all those Instagram pics of the lookout actually exaggerate its beauty. So, it can’t just be about the finish.”
I then wondered, Why did she love to hike then?
“Because I love the conversations with my friends” she continued. “I like the creatures we see along the way. I love the smell of the trail. I like the challenge. When I’m out there, there’s no other place I’d rather be. And, with every trip, another piece of my ego chips away.”
Graduates, while this mic is on, I would like to say this to you as you grab your diploma and flip open a new chapter:
Happiness might not lie at the summit. What my hiker friend was trying to say is that success is finding things that make you feel alive. Things you can’t help daydream about when you’re not doing them. Things you’d do for free.
Because, in the end, happiness has to be more than getting that fancy car, a nicer house, or an expensive pair of shoes, doesn’t it?
Fill up your days with things you keep wanting to do over and over again. It seems to me, that’s successful living.
And I’ll end with this.
The most beautiful part of your journey ahead is that no one else gets to decide what those things are, but you.
Congratulations class of 2019. Aces forever. And good luck to you all.