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Graduation Day(s)

As a professional, I always worked in educational programming.  However, my current position was the first time I was involved in postsecondary pathways.  What are the first next steps, after high school?   


I sought new ways to help youth consider who they were, what they loved, and how that might be a way to feel secure and purposeful in their lives and communities.  It was common for activities to include hands on career exploration and campus visits. 


On one sunny campus tour in March, I mused aloud to my colleague, "What should we be?"  I was kidding, but only practically speaking.  At its heart, and mine, this was a very relevant question.  The conversations I had with students were the conversations I was attempting to have with myself.


These day(s) I searched for my 'second' or 'third' or maybe its my 'fourth', first next step. On those same campuses, students protested commencement.  Many walked away from ceremonies, notably Jerry Seinfeld's speech at Yale


"Work as hard as you can," he said. 

Done.  I never shied away from work. 


"Find fascination." 

In recent days, I had grown a collection of library holds and website links. . .

At a conference for youth leaders, I was exposed to Valarie Kaur's idea of transition.  Life is circular. "We don't know if the darkness is 'womb' or 'tomb'."  Throughout her speech, she reminded, “Keep breathing.  Keep pushing.”


At a national training for youth development professionals, the central topic was 'purpose'.  As the details on the bulleted slide deck faded from memory, the message had been clear.  There was a difference between a purpose choosing 'success' as the end and redefining success as you lived your purpose.  To solidly mark the point, the universe made me one of the winners of the book giveaway, "Purpose in Life: A Critical Component of Optimal Youth Development."


On a job board, a grant writer position led me to click the message of the week on Or HaLev's website.  It wasn't for this week since it referenced Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, in September. 


"Well," the Rabbi posed the question, "what are the possible translations?"  Of course, there was the obvious, "In THE beginning."  Hebrew doesn't write with vowels which left two options.  In this case, if it was the collapsed sounds of 'l' and 'ha', there was only one beginning to reference.  In THE beginning. . . 


"But, what if?" the rabbi posed.  "What if there was no 'ha'?"  That would mean that we were speaking only of 'a' beginning.  A beginning was only one of many and they are happening all the time.


Excerpts of so many ‘could be’ commencement speeches spoke from beyond stages and podiums.  They asked, “What did I want to be?   Who did I want to be?” For me.


Just yesterday, I found myself on a campus visit to the same school from that sunny March day.  The students and event and the weather were different.  It rained.  Youth were participating in a Mini Business experience.  I sat across the table from the invited presenter, the Director of Wisconsin Business World.  We exchanged impactful conversations we had with youth.


“I don’t like strengths and weaknesses,” she told me.  “Instead, we talk about interests and obligations.” 


I nodded in agreement. A handful of words, and even their articles of speech, in these ‘speeches’ mattered, to me. This was another great example.


“We might only not have a skill because we’re not interested in investing any time in getting better.  We phone it in.”


Again, I nodded. Imagining, my first next steps, today.


One more time, I opened the link to Seinfeld’s commencement address and reread each word. Reflecting on those students who remained, he acknowledged, likely were not listening closely because they were in their own heads.  Despite being valedictorian of my high school class, I was relieved that the speaker was chosen from applicants.  I didn’t apply.  I had no words. Perhaps, because I loved endings and hated beginnings equally. Seinfeld spoke to that too.

"Stop rushing to what you perceive as some valuable endpoint. Learn to enjoy the expenditure of energy that may or may not be on the correct path." 


Breathe. Thrive. Begin (again and again and again), because it's June, and it's another graduation day.


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