Happiness & Graduation

So it’s graduation season and as an educational administrator I’ve sat through three graduations so far and have one more on Monday night.  Many of you will sit through multiple graduations over the next month, some of you may have already been through a few.  And although we are there for friends and loved ones, the graduation speeches are usually terrible.  The same old, go forth and be special, life will be good, blah, blah, blah.  However, last week I sat through the best graduation speech I’ve ever heard.  It was delivered by a friend and a colleague and it was honest and touching and fired up the gypsy in my soul.

The talk encourage the students to chase their dreams, their passions and to sample all that life has to offer, the text is below, presented with the permission of my friend, Kim.  Enjoy.

“Some drink deeply and quickly from the well of formal knowledge….and others….well others sip more slowly and like to sample from here, there, everywhere….kind of like bees of the invisible….going from flower to flower oooh…trip to burning man. Yes.  Climbing in Yosemite. Yes.  Two for one. Definitely. Yes.

 This class, on average—took 8 years to complete their associates degrees. Three of these students have earned over 100 credits. Most are close to earning a second or third associates in something other than what is listed in the program. One student worked in Haiti, Morocco, and Egypt, another studied in Australia for a year and half.  Samplers, wanderers, adventurers—this group.

In honor of this class, the theme of my address today is….all who wander are not lost.

 So what of this wandering, and finding your way ….in this increasingly complex world.  It can be daunting.

My daughter and I were recently driving in Boston….and the road system is pretty confounding…as are the rules….for instance, we learned that a yellow light means five cars can go, and a red light, only three.  We were about 45 minutes away from our home base and the G.P.S. system (which we nicknamed Miss Directed), ran out of battery and could not be plugged into the lighter because it was broken.

And when the bleeping lights and electronic voice stopped, I had no idea where I was. Absolutely no idea…I couldn’t even tell which way was north or south. So we stopped and asked for directions…..the man started with….you go to the second dunkin donuts and go east…..and then ended with “you can’t really get dere from he-ah.”

I had relied on technology to mediate my experiences, and in the process, sacrificed my own instincts.

It occurred to me that a coyote can always find his or her way back to the den after a hunt. And in the sierras, when  I am backcountry skiing, I know where I am and how to get home, even in the dark. 

I have never been lost while being attentive to my surroundings and trusting my wildish instincts.

“You can’t really get dere from he-ah”….I’m sure you have all heard that at some point in your lifepath. Punctuated with lots of “shoulds”, and well-meaning advice.

John Muir, like you, was also a sampler, a wanderer, an adventurer. And I think you will relate to a story he tells about his youth in Wisconsin.  Seems John’s father was a stern and critical Scot, who was very hard on his son.  And he asked John to dig a well on the family farm.  Every day John would dutifully be lowered in a bucket down to the bottom of the very narrow hole and put soil in the bucket.  One of the farm hands would pulley it up.  Day after day he would do this, even though he didn’t like it and the well became quite deep.  Around 75 feet down, he didn’t know what was wrong, but he started feeling woozy…..seems there were some noxious fumes that were seeping into the space….but he was unaware of how poisonous they were.  Still, every day he would consent to be lowered into that space, and try with all his might to dig.

One day, when the fumes were really bad….he felt like sitting down in the bottom of the hole, so he did.  He became dizzier and more clouded in his thinking and realized that he couldn’t move.  He tried a few times, but his limbs quite simply didn’t respond.  He was numb in his mind and in his body…And after some time, he thought….it’s OK…it doesn’t matter…and he gave in to giving up.

As he drifted in and out of consciousness….looking up the narrow passageway to the light…..he caught a glimpse of a tree branch shimmering as it caught the sun.  And there was something in that image that spoke to him….called him toward the light and towards life.

And he said to himself, John, get in the bucket.  But alas, he could not move.  Get in the bucket….inch by excruciating inch he lifted his arm and put it in…and then one leg, and a torso…until at last his whole body was in the bucket and he was lifted to safety.

Soon thereafter, he decided the farm life was not for him, and he followed his instincts and headed west….where he discovered his beloved Yosemite Valley.

One of the stories he tells, later in his life, about being there took place during a storm in the valley.  He climbed to the top of a 75 foot Douglas fir and clung to its branches as it danced madly in the storm.  He describes it as whirling ecstasy as he swung round and round on that tree, shouting with utter joy.

A sampler, wanderer,  adventurer….so how do we navigate, whether we be giving up in the bottom of holes….or clinging joyfully to trees dancing in the wind?  How do we identify the noxious fumes—or the invisible things that are hurting us, before they render us unconscious? For some, that might be ideas we have about ourselves, or ideas others have about us, or a relationship that is not sustainable, or a job that is killing you. How do we return to our wildish wisdom and know what we are being called to do?

And I don’t know the answer for you…but I would suggest that we begin by

     1. use the gps as an aid, don’t let it replace our inner knowing….we can listen to what others say about our lifepath, but in the end, only we know the way.

    2.have compassion for yourself.  see yourself with the soft eyes of non-judgment.  When we take risks, we make mistakes, when we make mistakes, we learn from them and it is the integration of that learning that deepens us, enriches us, makes us far more interesting.  As an example of how we use mistakes to make meaning…

Take a moment to think back over your life, and the thing you regret the most….and please don’t say it out loud…just think what that might be. Now figure out…was it something you did….or something you didn’t do….

For most, it is something you didn’t do….which means that the things you DID do…have become an important part of who you are, even if they felt like mistakes at the time…As humans, we tend to make meaning out of our actions…and learn from them.

    And 3.  Figure out what that tree branch is for you…that thing that calls you to the light and to life.  Begin by paying attention to what you love with your whole heart, let that be your guide.

And then when someone says to you “You can’t get dere from he-ah”…this class says, with a twinkle in their eye….oh yes I can. And you did.

Today you have arrived, at a very concrete place.  You have wandered, yes, and returned to this path. And it is time to pause, reflect, and celebrate.

As you receive your awards today, I want to tell you that there is invisible writing on the back of the diploma…..and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it….I will tell you what it says.

You are brilliant, and the Earth is hiring.(Paul Hawken line)

The Earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters today.  Instead, it sends you the diamond glint of new fallen snow.  Sunsets. The smell of pine needles after the rain. Ripe cherries, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. And it tells you over and over that there is a place for you and your gifts in the family of things.

So if you are the bottom of the hole…get in the bucket….and if you are at the top of the tree…hang on. And remember…..all who wander, are not lost.






About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
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6 Responses to Happiness & Graduation

  1. Pingback: The best graduation speech I’ve ever heard « Zdeaconblue's Blog

  2. harriett kane says:

    the most honest & moving commencement address i have ever heard well done those students were very lucky to have such a speaker

  3. Bobby Clubbs says:

    That is outstanding! Thank you so much for sharing that beautiful speech.

  4. Nancy Thomas says:

    Kim, you are and have always been the most inspiring speaker I have ever known. Brilliant from start to finish.

  5. Pingback: Milestones of Happiness: 500th Post | The Ministry of Happiness

  6. Pingback: Happiness and Learning from Others | The Ministry of Happiness

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