Honor those hard-working grads who didn't quite make it to Harvard
BERKELEY, CALIF. — Graduation season is here. Soon millions of students will be leaving for college or other pursuits. But I wonder how some of them will be affected by the speeches and awards at their commencement ceremonies?
I, along with other relatives and friends, have listened to hours of speeches and watched dozens of the 4.0's come up to the stage for award after award. As I've watched the faces of those not called, I've wondered what it must be like to be a solid "C" student, or one who struggled to hold on to a "B." Did those "average" students feel that, after all the hoopla for the award winners, their fate of mediocrity was sealed?
As I sat through one of the longer events, I started composing an address for those "other" kids:
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, congratulations to the valedictorian and the 4.0's. I wish them well, but this is for the rest of you.
You're not off to Stanford or Harvard. Maybe you're going to community college or state college, or your second or third choice. Or maybe you're going to try something different. Good for you! You are all about to do great things. Ahead of you are opportunities for success that you haven't even imagined yet. Maybe success by worldly standards; maybe success by your own standards.
I have one piece of wisdom to share. Much more of our future than we sometimes realize is a matter of chance, and a lot is what we make of those chances.
You might, for example, get a part-time job with a landscaper, find that you love it, and go on to create beautiful environments that bring joy and pleasure to others. Your college roommate's dad might own a business that gives you a summer job, and you might end up running the company. Or you may find the only class that meets a requirement one semester is "Geography of Water" - and you get hooked and eventually design clean-water systems for developing countries.
One of my favorite sayings is, "God laughs, when man makes plans." I don't mean don't plan. But some of those perfectly planned 4.0 lives may take unexpected turns and so will yours. Be ready to make the best of them. The doodles that always got you in trouble may be the groundwork for a cartoon series, the design for a new building, or might enhance the lessons for your future students.
One of those 4.0's might find a medical cure for cancer. But you might find a cure for loneliness. One day you might comb an old woman's hair into a neat little bun, push her wheelchair to a spot next to her favorite rosebush, and listen as she tells you about her garden.
Whoever you were on Commencement Day, whatever others expected of you - well, that's done. Now you get to reinvent yourself. If you were always the super-neat one, you get to loosen up. If you were the class clown, you get to try being serious.
Treat every class as if it's important. You never can tell. Even if you don't become an astronomer, that astronomy class that filled a requirement may turn out to be valuable. You'll acquire study skills that will help you in the next class. Or some star-filled night you may lie on the grass with your children and teach them about the wonders of this universe.
Have faith in yourself. Most wonderful, successful people never went to the stage for an award. Many were a lot like you. They kept their minds and hearts open, found a niche, and made the most of it.
So can you. Congratulations.
• Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist and parent educator.