Today, we have a story relating the Saturday graduation exercises at Surry Community College. Over the coming weeks we’ll have similar stories covering commencement services at the area high schools, and no doubt plenty of announcements from proud local parents about their children graduating from various colleges and universities around the nation.
Believe me when I say I am definitely in tune with all of the pride and emotions that come with graduations. My oldest daughter graduated from Radford University a week ago. About this time last year my wife earned her master’s degree in special education. If all goes as planned, we have four or five consecutive years of graduations lying ahead of us — my oldest son will be earning an associate’s next spring, my oldest daughter a master’s degree the following spring, my middle daughter a bachelor’s and my youngest her high school diploma the following spring, and I still have another son who hasn’t decided what he’s going to do — he might be slipping in there somewhere earning an associate’s degree.
Along the way we’re going to hear a lot of graduation speeches, the same kinds of things many of you will hear or read over the next few weeks. Talks filled with well-deserved praise for graduations reaching their goals; bitter-sweet sentiments from the grads speaking of leaving their comfortable school rooms behind — and missing their friends — as they move on to their next challenges in life; and encouragement to set those goals, to strive for more, to always seek to improvement themselves and to look for ways to building a better community.
People are going to be telling the graduates to keep their eyes ahead, to never get too caught up in the present and not to dwell in the past. That no matter what comes along, keep your attention focused on the end goal, on the prize.
We might even see that one old phrase pop up: carpe diem, Latin for “seize the day.” Some speakers and those dispensing advice will use this in exhorting you to live each day to the fullest, that while you’re busy planning for and looking toward the future, don’t forget to squeeze every bit of life possible out of each day.
That’s all great advice, words we should all try to live by.
But I’ll add one more bit of advice: Take a little time to enjoy the day.
I thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as we approached the day my oldest graduated from Radford. At first she wasn’t even going to participate in the graduation. To her, finishing college isn’t the “big deal.” That comes with grad school. Of course, her mom and I pulled a little parental rank and convinced her that she risked family disownment if she didn’t take part in the ceremony, but that illustrated to me she’s not really focused on the present, or the past, but she’s set her academic and career goals and she’s not letting anything become an obstacle to reaching those goals.
You better believe I’m as proud of her as I can be, both in her achievement of graduating and the way she’s pursuing those goals with what I would call a relentless determination.
My counsel to her, however — and what I’d say to every graduate getting ready to move onto a new chapter in their lives — is this: Take a little time to simply appreciate and enjoy the life you have now.
I found a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that goes something like “We are always getting ready to live but never living.”
Keep your goals ahead of you, stayed focused on those, don’t let present circumstances or challenges throw you off course, but stop every once in a while and just enjoy.
Enjoy the friends you have, relish the opportunity you have to be around family, even find a way to be happy with the drudgery of classes or work or whatever it is you have going on daily in your life. Whatever is the next chapter of your life will be an old chapter soon enough as you finish school or college and move on to work; wrap up a few years on your first job as you move along in your career; move from being a newlywed into the routine of marriage or expanding a family, going on to yet another chapter, and then another and another.
That’s the way life should be, but while you’re moving through life, reaching goals and setting new ones, spend a little time just enjoying the moment.