A letter to some of the gritty, get-after-it, gorgeous young ladies I know who graduated this year. When heading out into the great wide world remember:
One: Adults don’t have it all figured out.
Two: Don’t let anyone treat you like you are just a woman.
Three: Trust, trust, trust, trust, trust your gut.
Four: Find mentors. Make friends.
Five: Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Beware.
There are some things it just feels necessary to approach with thoughtful words– with your best. Pretending to give life advice is one of those things– a moment wherein you need to carefully asses the lay of the emotional landscape, if you will.
Most Graduating has come and gone. I missed my window to dole out my two cents before your four-corned mortarboards left your hand for the skies. But this letter is one to those who have already Graduated. You are now The Graduate. So I’m still going to send this message out to you as you wend your way onto life’s larger roads.
Writing advices like these, you also have to be careful not to be cocky. Some pretty incredible Commencement Speeches have hit the history books. I’m most likely not going to say something as profound as Sheryl Sandberg in her commencement address to UC Berkeley this year when she chose to speak, not about life, but about death in the wake of her husband’s passing. A consummate tribute to the power that pain, struggle, challenge, and deep sorrow play in making us stronger, see it here.
I’m not going to say something as compelling as David McCullough Jr. did in 2012 to Wellesley High School when he emphasized that “You Are Not Special”, seen here. That’s right, he told every one of those graduates that contrary to what they might have been told in their Pampered Upper Middle Class Prep-School Enclave that they would NOW have to distinguish themselves as members of the human race to make their mark. That they were NOT the center of the universe.
“Get busy. Have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up. Get out. Explore. Find it yourself. Grab hold with both hands,” McCullough said. This speech is good stuff. It’s definitely worth a listen.
I’m not going to be able to pen something as catchy as Wear Sunscreen. Which was the foremost graduation speech in my day. A commencement speech given in 1997, so good that it was attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, a writer’s cult favorite, even though it was actually written by Mary Schmich. You can read it here.
And I’m certainly not going to be writing a quintessential post-teen punk anthem like Green Day’s Good Riddance. Affectionately subtitled, Time of Your Life. No, that’s not my cup of tea. But I do want to share with a few things I’ve picked up on my journey. A few understandings that have come my way. I hope they’ll help you in some way.
Adults Don’t Have it All Figured Out
I vividly remember a moment last year. I was standing in the kitchen, scooping something into the trash can and I thought something to the effect of, “This is it? This is being an adult? I wanted and wished and hoped to be an adult all of my childhood life, and this is what it turns out to be?!? This stinks!” And I wasn’t referring to the trash in the can.
You see, I was that child. The girl who always wanted to be grown up. I don’t know all of the reasons for this, and I’m glad that I wanted to grow up instead of remaining an over-grown child. But I want you to know that ADULTING is HARD.
It is difficult to be responsible for yourself. Yes, sometimes it sucks. When the rent, and the electric, and the water, and the trash, and the cleaning, and the cooking, and the working, and child rearing are ON YOU. Sometimes it can be very overwhelming.
It can also be overwhelming to move closer into the lives, and hearts, and the emotional presence of the adults around you. I’m talking about parents, and grandparents, and aunts and uncles, and old friends who will now be (at least partial) peers to you.
You will see more clearly than ever that they do NOT know everything. That they have many questions and patterns that may continue to keep them in pain, and that they seem almost helpless to free themselves from these chains. The same people, so precious to you, who have bathed you, wiped your face, wiped your bottom, picked you up after falls literal and figurate, who are your heroes, your examples, your touch-points– they still have hopes, and dreams, and hurts, and unrealized realities, too.
Don’t be alarmed. Don’t be afraid. As you move closer into their realm, their worlds– watch them, learn from them, try not to be hurt by them. They are still learning to be adults, too. Learn from their mistakes and missteps. Love them. But it is okay to realize that sometimes even the adults around you don’t have it all figured out.
Last but not least, you do not have to take on the entire role of adult right now! Try it on. Move out of the house. Go away to school. Get all of the education you can. Find a trade and become an expert in it. Get a job in a nearby town.
The best part about right now is that you can still be 17, 18, 19, or 20, RIGHT NOW! The time for hard core adulating will come. The marriage, the babies, the career, the bills. You don’t need to pretend to be 25, 35, or 40. What I am saying is enjoy this moment of being. Enjoy this in-betweening. You’re at the end of your teens, on the cusp of your twenties. Enjoy being YOU, RIGHT NOW!
Don’t let anyone treat you like you are just a woman
The longer I live, the more I realize that we are humans. Not just a woman, not just a man, but a HUMAN. Yes, I do believe that there are certain differences between men and women. I am not qualified to suss out in their entirety which are nature and which are nurture. No one is. You will be able to see and discern and decide how you think it all breaks down as you grow and learn.
It is true that you have the ability to bear children and a man does not. It is true that we are also made up of certain chemical and biological differences– this dance of testosterone and estrogen, these X and Y chromosomes. But I do no believe that these differences make women any less qualified or competent to hold any job, work in any capacity, to reason, to make tough decisions, to be the CEO, be the president, or to change the world.
YOU are this infinite, incredible you. Never before existent, and never to be replaced or recreated in this space or time. Intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable, emotional, faceted, intricate, YOU. Never let anyone else create a lesser version of you. Especially in your own mind. Please remember that when others try to make you feel small, it is only because they are honoring the deceit of their own smallness.
When you are passed over for a job, a promotion, a handshake, an acknowledgment, or made to feel lesser than your male counterparts for any reason whatsoever, please do not take this as a sign of anything other than what it is– a societal inability to stretch, and reach, and accept, and achieve equality and equanimity in the present. Work for the change.
Along with that, you must learn the VALUE and STRENGTH of ALL THAT YOU POSSESS. You must come to know yourself intimately. You must ask yourself hard questions. You must do and try hard things– succeed or fail. You must never let anyone dismiss you, and most of all you must never DIMINISH yourself or others.
Trust, trust, trust, trust, trust your gut
You are still learning a lot about yourself at this point in life. I know that. You know that. You are still growing into the person you will and can be. That is good. Take that growing in stride. But simply because you are learning, and forming, and molding yourself doesn’t mean that you should throw all that you already know and believe out the window.
In fact, I have it on good authority that there is Someone out there who is looking out for you. I do believe that God– the maker, the creator, the designer, the potter, the omniscient, the omnipotent– loves YOU and has a desire for you to have what is the very best for you in your life. You are His, theirs, really.
This means that you have come equipped with a receiver, a beacon, a radar. It goes both ways. When your conscience tells you that something smells, majorly or minorly, (because sometimes the stink will be covered up by some other tantalizing aroma) something is most likely not good. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, to steal a phrase. So when your gut tells you that something isn’t right– go with your gut– ditch it!
This you trusting you trusting God business is NOT for the birds. The more you seek after the good, the uplifting, the truly beautiful, the sublimely joyful, the sweetest that Life has to offer, the more you will learn that your instincts are not off the mark. The more you will recognize that everyone is endowed with this inalienable ability to choose the good and eschew the evil. Do good! Choose good!
Find Mentors, Make Friends
Because you are transitioning into this young adult phase of your life, please be on the lookout for mentors, teachers, and honest guides. I cannot tell you when you will find them, I cannot tell you where you will find them. I can only tell you that you will.
I was privileged to meet some of my closest and most treasured friends when I was in college. These are relationships and friendships that I carry with me to this day. People who I have been able to celebrate as they have moved on to new phases, and stages, and achievements. People who have celebrated me at my wedding, my graduation from grad school, the birth of my first baby, the career opportunities that have opened up for me.
When one of my oldest and dearest friends walked into my freshman astronomy class and sat down next to me with a soda and bag of penny candy identical to mine the rest was history. A rich history of friendship in the making.
This woman became my running buddy, climbing partner, my adventure seeking associate, my letter of recommendation writer, and I think all we did to deserve this was to be ready for this next friendship with openness and care.
Look for these people, these soul partners. In many ways you find the deepest connections of your entire adult life in this next moment of your life. Be ready! In other ways you may realize that some of the relationships that you took for granted with your parents, grandparents, siblings, and current friendships, are actually some of the most important to you always. Either way, this is a time to build relationships that will last a lifetime.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Beware
As you enter this phase of your life, a phase that potentially presents you with a lot more freedom, I want you to remember that the warnings you received in High School about SEX, DRUGS, and ROCK and ROLL were for a good reason. They still have a purpose.
And if you still don’t know very much about sex, sexuality, sexual activity, and the repercussions and sexual play at an early age, then for the love of all things go and educate yourself. Enroll in a birthing class, for all I care, but make sure that you know more than the basics, and make sure that you are informed about the entire process.
What I mean, to be a bit more blunt, is that abstinence is STILL the only way to be sure that you don’t get pregnant or contract an STD. Practicing sex at this point in your life is still very impractical because your need to create children is most likely at a low, as well.
Playing with sex is not only a recipe for pregnancy, it is emotional fire. Don’t forget that beyond the physical act of love making is an entire host of strong, powerful, purpose driven emotions that are meant to point you to eventual pro-creation. Does that mean you are ready for them? No. Absolutely not.
Sexual activity STILL carries with it the REAL and increasing LIKELY fact that you may contract some kind of sexually transmitted disease from your partner. This is not a statistical insignificance, this is a fact. I know that you have HEARD about crabs, gonorea, hepatitis, genital warts, herpes, HIV, PID, and HPV. You’ve probably laughed about it ALL with your girlfriends.
But none of these are a laughing matter. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) 15-24 year-olds account for HALF of all sexually transmitted diseases that are contracted each year. HALF. That the other half of the STD contractors come from the ages of 25-107. Yes, you’re almost 10 times more likely to contract a STD than the rest of the population COMBINED!!!!!!!
If you are going to choose to be sexually active, because this is a choice within your purview, then you need to practice proper protection for yourself and for your partner. Just because you do it in the dark doesn’t mean that the consequences aren’t always brought to light, and I can assure you that there WILL be consequences. Be smart. Be informed. Be safe.
The same goes for DRUGS and ROCK and ROLL. Both have their purpose. Both can be healing, but you have got to screw your head on straight and wise up to the fact that these decisions will be part of your existence, so to decide your path now will bring you peace now and health later on. Enough said. (There is always more to be said on this subject, but when in doubt, educate yourself MORE.)
I really do hope that you will live this portion of your life with joy! I hope that you will be happy and let it show. I hope that you will smile, and laugh, and not take yourself or anyone else too seriously.
I hope that you will learn. I hope that you will cram all of the knowledge, and education, and skill into that beautiful brain of yours. Push it in. Pump it in. Fit in as much as you can because some day, and it probably seems far away now but will come so much sooner than you anticipate, you will have the opportunity to pass on that knowledge, and wisdom, and learning to others. I am not JUST talking about being a mother. I am talking about bringing good and wholeness to others because you have taken the time to study them out. You can bring them to the world.
You are in a beautiful budding, buzzing time of life. You have SO MUCH in front of you! Don’t look back. Look forward with hope, and awe, and readiness. Grab on to your future with your hands, your feet, and your teeth. Go with it. Grow with it. And YOU will become YOU. The woman you were always meant to be!