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Dear American students,

No matter your age, you are commencing soon from one grade to another or earning a degree of one sort or another. Realizing that these are trying times to be a young person, I offer the following thoughts to you as you commence.

I try to notice something new everyday. I used to say that “I try to learn something new” everyday, but that’s not really true. What I’m trying to do is be observant. To experience this world while I’m here. The follow are a few of my observations of late.

I offer you four simple truths and one challenge.

First, life is both always changing and cyclical. It’s Spring again and the magnolias are blooming (in Michigan, anyway). That one student in the back of the room is messing with whichever kid is closest. The Student Driver is obeying the speed limit as usual. The President is crass and embarrassing. The countdown to the last day of school has started (29 school days).  And Two spaces after a period is back in vogue.

Sure, the magnolias are late and that bully kid has a different name and the President may be more embarrassing than he was last year at this time…but it’s part of that subtle interplay between natural, recurring events and the variety that gives life spice. Some see it as a pendulum that swings back and forth — regarding the leanings of the country on political, sexual, environmental, economic, moral, and other relevant issues. Whether it’s a pendulum or a cycle or a routine, there does seem to be a rhythm to life — but change is inevitable. Try to embrace both the cycles of life and the changes. It’s not usually very easy, but it’s predictable.

Also, don’t forget that one of the main things we share, as humans, is our fallibility. We make mistakes and if we don’t learn from them, then we don’t grow. And history repeats itself. Try to embrace your mistakes. That’s isn’t easy either, but it’s where growth occurs; again, don’t look to macho, egotistical leaders for your guide on this one. Admit your mistakes.  Ask for help if you need it. Accept help humbly and move on.

Speaking of role models, my third truth is that we are all teachers. We learn, in part, from observing each other. And some people are amazing teachers of human behavior and some are not. I don’t know if you’re like me, but the list of my role models has taken a hit in recent months and years. President Barack Obama still shines in my book. President Obama seems to me to be a very grounded person. He cares for others and that caring translates into action. He is observant and intelligent in his own right. And the man knows when and how to be a real human being. When he sang “Amazing Grace” as President, he endeared himself to me and millions who know the power of song, the power of that song, and the power of a community of like-minded, loving people. The National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, is another worthy role model. I don’t think it’s too much to assume she’s an amazing teacher and the way she handled being in the vicinity of our current President recently was classy and powerful. She was able to lift up her students’ voices and let the country know her priorities. She said “I am here for refugee and immigrant students, for the kids in the gay-straight alliance, and for all the girls I’ve coached over the years, to send them the message that they are wanted, they are loved, they are enough, and they matter.” There are many forward-thinking, respectful people after which to model your life, despite the fact that the headlines emphasize our bickering, mean-spirited leaders. Choose wisely.

I, also, suggest you embrace your diversity. It’s a strength. What makes you unique stems from the struggle of countless ancestors. Instead of pretending to be a generic American, get to know your own background. It’s a great way to have more empathy for today’s immigrants. As a country, we have so much depth and breadth of experience from our myriad backgrounds, if we choose to learn from each other, accept each other, and celebrate each other.

If you put this all together it goes something like this: be observant to life’s cyclical nature and be open to life’s constant call for change and challenge; welcome your mistakes and grow from them; choose your role models and mentors carefully; and know and celebrate your rich background. Joseph Campbell called these qualities the Hero’s Journey, both in literature and in life. Be the hero of your life.




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