Dear Class of 2017:
You’re one second to midnight. That phrase was my father’s final warning to my siblings and me when we were doing something wrong.
It meant we better immediately correct our behavior or it was going to be our end. Looking back, I never found out what midnight was, but it feels like America is about to.
Usually in graduation speeches people tell you how to be “successful.” Well, I’m not going to do that here. It’s time you learn the truth—that you’ve been told a lie.
Who you are matters more than the job, house, car, and the social status you have. Degrees and diplomas, GPAs and 401Ks, plaques and praise are nice, but if you stop being nice to yourself and stop being nice to your neighbors in your pursuit of the things you can hang on your walls, then you haven’t really achieved anything at all.
Do you really think that in the infinite vastness of the universe that has billions of different galaxies, and as far as we can tell not a single other planet possesses anything that remotely resembles you or me, that our purpose here is to compete with each other and go to war with each other to see who can consume and accumulate the most stuff?
The truth is: We don’t need more successful people. We need more happy people who have the ability and openness to love all others.
The powers that be don’t want you to be happy though, because it’s hard to control happy people. An angry person, however, is the easiest to manipulate. I’ve never met a happy, angry person.
When did we all become so angry at everybody?
Maybe it’s the mind-numbing concrete commutes to work, the crushing cubicles and low stimulation of office life.
Maybe it’s being owned by a bank from the time we turn 18 until we retire thanks to debt from student loans, mortgages and credit cards; debt accumulated so we can go to prestigious colleges, so we can pay for the cars we drive to the jobs we hate, and so we can pay for the home we’re rarely in (which more than half of us will have to sell anyway because of our future divorces).
Maybe it’s so we can live in the “good” neighborhoods where we barely know our neighbors anymore, and we can send our children to the “good” schools so they can be conditioned to repeat the same lie that makes us sick.
Maybe it’s so that when we retire we might get to travel for a few years before we die. But before that can happen, so many of us feel the daily need to inject ourselves with caffeine just to get through the day, pop pills to fall asleep, and wash it down with alcohol on the weekends so we don’t think about Mondaymorning’s impending alarm that starts it all over again like we are Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the mountain that we call the American Dream.
Or maybe our unhappiness is from all the television we watch that has programmed us to always feel like we are never enough and that our neighbor is someone we should fear rather than love.
Or maybe it’s witnessing the injustice of those who enact and enforce our laws but who don’t have to follow them themselves, or seeing our world leaders profiting off bombing, poisoning and imprisoning people.
Or maybe it’s our politics that tell us we must hate anyone who thinks differently than we do, and that truth is malleable not solid, and that principles only have to matter to us when “the other team” breaks them.
Or maybe it’s that hypocrisy should be ignored, and name calling is synonymous with strength, while empathy, compassion and cooperation is weakness.
When our food isn’t even real food anymore, when myth becomes truth and truth becomes myth, when profit is put before principles and when greed is placed ahead of loving each other the way God intended, it’s no wonder that 70 percent of our country is on some form of pill with antidepressants and painkillers being most common. If that’s “success” do you really want any part of it?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to achieve anything or that accomplishments don’t matter. I’m saying that those things don’t matter the most. What is most important is how large you love and how fulfilled you feel.
The greatest day of your life is the day you know who you are. It’s the greatest day because it transforms every day, both prior and to come, because when you know who you are, you make peace with your past and you no longer worry about your future. The presence of complete love makes you live in the present.
And when you know your truth, nothing anyone else says about you and no amount of future “success” or “failure” changes that truth. You are a walking miracle. The fact that you are alive means at the very beginning you were the best out of 100 million sperm. And out of the billions of people who have ever lived, there has never been another soul like you.
The only reason you fail is because you’ve bought into someone else’s doubt instead of believing in your own excellence. Every dream you relentlessly pursue is possible. When you know where you come from, you know what you’re capable of, and you will be bold in encountering any opposition to living out your dreams. Never let anyone tame you while in pursuit of living your truth.
Think of it this way: Who we are and how we treat others is the ice cream. Our accolades and achievements are the toppings that turn ice cream into a sundae. The entire cup needs to be filled with ice cream (kindness, empathy, generosity, courage, compassion, forgiveness, thoughtfulness, service to others, bliss, honesty, and your absolute best effort). The worst sundaes are the ones that look impressive but once you dig into them, they collapse as you realize there’s not much there except for a big tower of whipped cream and toppings.
So give most of your time to becoming the most loving human being possible. Focus more on building your sundae than what building you are in on Sunday.
We have lots of religious people but not enough loving people, which is an oxymoron because God is love. So if you want to know God more, you have to know love more. The highest aim of our lives should be to remove all fear and become full of only love. That is what a fulfilled life is.
Being full of love will make you fully happy. And in a world that is working overtime to make you feel anything but happiness, to be a happy, loving person is the most prodigious feat of them all.
So reject the repugnant, insipid way of living that you’ve been subjugated to and choose to lead a life of happiness and love.
When is the last time you skipped instead of walked? When was the last time you got lost in play? When was the last time you wept from gratitude? You must remember that it’s the things you can’t buy that can make you the happiest.
Turn off the cable “news” shows and go gaze at the stars every night. If you want to increase your happiness, increase the number of hugs you give, the smiles you show, and the actions of kindness you perform.
Say the words “I love you” 100 times more than you do right now. But remember: This is your lifetime. You can’t just say you love; you have to show it. And you can’t just show you love; you have to say it, too.
Also, say “thank you” 100 times every day, both out loud to people and from your inner soul to the whole universe. You’ll truly have it all once you’ve learned to forgive all and love all—even loving those you don’t like and who don’t like you.
Life is like a sundae. You get to make it any way you want, but you can only scoop out what you put in. Don’t compare your sundae to someone else’s. Don’t get jealous if they have a different topping than you.
And if someone doesn’t like your flavor of ice cream, it’s OK because only you have to eat it.
Savor every bite and never let someone else take away your happiness. Your soul is loquacious. Turn off the mute button that fear made you press on a long time ago and trust your truth again.
You don’t need anyone else’s approval to be who you are because God already chose you. So start serving large scoops of love because it’s one second to midnight.