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Things Someone Should Tell You At Your Graduation Ceremony: An Abbreviated List




By now, you’ve likely heard soundbytes or read quotes from Kansas City football team kicker Harrison Butker's commencement speech. I don’t want to talk much about the young newlywed who decided a graduation ceremony was the appropriate place to suggest his personal life choices were the correct life choices for everyone. But I’ll admit my head has been spinning and my blood has been boiling just a bit since I first listened to the speech.


Ghandi famously said we should “be the change [we] want to see in the world”. In that vein, I’d like to offer some counter advice to recent graduates and young people who are on the brink of their adult lives. Some full-on adults who find themselves in a new season may even find snippets of wisdom for themselves in here.


First, some context. I am an American, almost-40, white woman who rests comfortably in the middle class. I am a college graduate who has held several different jobs after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. I am married to my husband of 17 years. Together, we have 4 children, and I began staying home with my kids about 12 years ago, after my first child was born and we moved across the country.


I left my new career as a public school science teacher (a profession that I loved and still miss at times), so that I could take care of my son all day while my husband pursued his own career ambitions. This was not necessarily an easy decision on my part, as it required me to sacrifice things I loved for the people I love. However, I do not hold any resentment about the choice, as I recognize it was MY choice, not something that I was pressured into. Additionally, much of the time in my current career has been filled with joy, and growth, and excitement.


At the same time, I’d also like to emphasize that even though it was my choice to leave a career so that I could stay home full time, there have been difficult periods of said career as a stay at home mother that have made me question that decision. There are not negative connotations with this statement, it’s simply a fact. I’d imagine most people in any career have similar thoughts and doubts.


NOW -Here are a few nuggets of wisdom that I feel qualified to impart on a younger generation than my own.


  1. Learn who you are.

Who you are right now in this moment is not who you’ll always be. You don’t want to hear it, but you’re still young. You don’t have a lot of context yet about who you are in this big world. You’re at the starting line.


Look around. Notice things. Don’t be afraid to notice new things that you’ve previously not been exposed to. Ask questions and be curious before forming an opinion. Find people you trust who can tell you about yourself. Ignore the people who don’t know you, but try to tell you who you are. Be ok with having flaws. Embrace yourself without shame. Remind yourself that you don’t have to know everything already (or ever!)


Examine your values. How do you currently view the world? Why? What are the most important, non-negotiable tenets of your life? Is it most important that you make contributions for the greater good? Is it important for you to do your very best in any situation? Are your relationships with the people around you your guiding light?


Write these down as you realize them. Use them as your litmus test for major life decisions. No copying answers from your parents, friends, or neighbors. Everyone should decide for themselves.


Reminder: It is ok and normal and expected for these values to evolve and change over time as you learn and experience more.


2. Find the thing or things that make your soul spark.


This is not homework. This requires you to slow down and notice things about yourself. This takes time. For me, (in no particular order) it’s art in all forms, laughing, spending time with my kids & husband, dogs, nature, imagining new things and figuring out how to make them come to life, music, and volunteering.

Make time for these things.


Don’t worry if none of them become your career. These are things that make up who you are. Do not lose yourself so much that you have no time for any of them. Remind yourself and others that these aren’t frivolous hobbies. These are essential ways that you express yourself and make your mark on this world. Discovering these things outside of everything else will help you be exactly who you’re supposed to be at any given moment.


3. YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB.


Your career might intersect with some of your biggest passions. If it does, congratulations! This is wonderful! However, if you find yourself in a job that turns into a career that you never really wanted, remember: YOU ARE NOT YOUR JOB. Your worth and identity is independent of what you do to earn money.


I have recently been thinking about a gemstone as a metaphor for a person. Whether cut & polished or raw & natural, the gemstone has many sides. There are so many facets for light to refract through. You can look at a gem from one side and only see one of it’s faces.

You can see and observe many things about that gemstone from that particular angle. But it will never tell the whole story. And you will only see part of it’s shine.


When you turn it to look at other angles and sides, the light may break in a different way. It may shine and sparkle in a new shade. It’s still the same gemstone, but how much would we miss if we didn’t turn it over in our hands or hold it up to the light?


I am a mother to 4 brilliant, hilarious, wonderful children. They’re 4 of the best humans on the planet, and I feel incredibly privileged to get to spend my days with them. I stay home and I cook and I clean and I tuck them in to bed every night. I do Pinterest crafts and summer bucket lists and sign up for all the school field trips. Being a mother is part of my identity, but it’s only one part.


Is being a stay at home mom my life calling? I would say it is not.

Do I think it’s anybody’s life calling? I would venture to say no. Kids grow up. They do not need their mothers to stay home forever. Stay at home motherhood is a season of life. When the kids are grown up and moved out, am I now disposable?


Of course, I hope they’ll always want me around. They’re awesome. They’re fun. I like who they are as people, and like spending time with them. But my identity cannot be pinned to the current job I’m doing, no matter how much I adore my “clients”.


4. Finally, perhaps the one thing I know for certain. Everything changes. Nothing lasts forever. This too, shall pass. Good or bad, this is not forever. Behave accordingly.

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