[I wrote this for my girl. If you want to peek in and see what what I felt like I wanted to say to her upon her college graduation, be my guest. It’s my graduation speech, if you will, since Loyola Marymount University didn’t ask me to headline.]
Hi Sweet Pea,
You know your mom. She’s got to take time out at this milestone to say a few things(!)…
I am feeling immense gratitude that you got to go to college–and, at the school of your choice. As we have talked about many times, this is not possible for so many. It may be said in America that college is possible for everyone and assumed to be the thing to do when you graduate high school, but the reality is that it doesn’t work for many (nor is it needed for all–Warren Buffett has some thoughts on this topic). Many can’t afford it, they don’t have the support needed to make it happen, or life gets in the way in one form or another. So, in my mind, that you even got to go is a big bonanza and gift. I’m pretty sure you get this and won’t forget it. It reminds me of your Christmas gift to us when you came home from studying abroad: “Thank you for giving me the world.” We did in a sense give you the world, at least in one way we knew to. And your world did expand and get much bigger. Yay!
Think on all the richness you would have missed! I’ve watched your journey from a thousand miles away, heard about much of it, tried to piece it together from your posts, texts, calls and visits. But it is yours–all yours. There is much I don’t know about. This is good. I am so glad you’ve had experiences, both good and bad, hard and amazing and eye-opening. There are some things I wish you hadn’t seen and experienced, but you did, so now, let them have a positive impact on you. Everything in our experience can be used for good. Everything. Even if we don’t know how to use it for good, God does. The worst things in my life have truly become some of the most fruitful and helpful.
Your graduation speaker, Anna Deavere Smith, pointed out that you will no longer have set curriculums and syllabus’ written by those with the intent to stretch and challenge your mind, your beliefs, etc. And then she said, “Be your own professor.” YES. So much yes. I loved college and seminary, but I’ll confess what I have loved even more: getting to be my own professor. You get to follow your curiosity and interests now (at least until grad school!). You can go down as many rabbit trails as you want (and you don’t have to write papers, take tests or demonstrate orally what you’ve learned!). I absolutely adore that I can be taking art classes, reading in a bunch of genres, learning the etymology of a word or learning about some scientific process–all just because it interests me. Push yourself. Make yourself read things that make you uncomfortable or force you to think. Go to lectures and poetry readings and concerts. READ. Read everything from cookbooks to science writers. Learn to crack an egg with one hand from YouTube. Whatever. Just keep learning.
Always remember all those you met and learned from who see the world differently and who taught you that you see just a piece and a corner and through a tint--a pretty rosy tint because you are privileged and white. You haven’t experienced economic injustice, had to flee for your life, wonder how you will be received or what you will have access to because of the color of your skin. You’ve never had to go to school hungry or skip lunch because there wasn’t money for food. You got to have piano lessons, go skiing, fly on airplanes to all sorts of places. If you needed help, we were able to get it for you. This is not the story for many. Always remember that people’s viewpoints are based on what they have experienced, seen, and been exposed to. They see what they do and the way they do because of what they have seen and experienced. You do, too. This sort of takes the rightness/wrongness rubric/labeling tactic away from things. You can always listen to others and have interest in what they have to say, as well as learn from what they have to say, if you remember this. It helps me have compassion and be kind when I remember others are the way they are for so many reasons.
I wouldn’t be your mom if I didn’t bring up God, spirituality or food…(!) I think you’ve figured out by this point that God matters immensely to me. I am so glad God matters to you as well. It is no small thing in my mind that you made it through college and are coming our with a stronger faith than you went in. That you learned from Atheists, Catholics, Protestants, Agnostics, Buddhists, etc., and sifted and sorted is awesome in my book. We should never be afraid of listening to and learning from other viewpoints. You are not afraid to be questioned. You are not afraid to be wrong. I LOVE this. I also love that you got a minor in theology…you’ll use it in parenting, if no other place (smile).
But back to God mattering. In order for your friendship with God to continue to grow and deepen, you are going to have to make space for it–you are going to have to nurture it, give it the time and attention you would to the relationships that matter most to you. You don’t have to do it like I have, but you need to find your rhythms and resources. My rhythms change depending on the life season, but the resources don’t (unless I add to them). I’ve developed a large array of resources to draw upon. More than anything right now, we need people of deep resources and wisdom, people who are living the Jesus way in all aspects of their lives, supporting and participating in the life-giving, life-bringing, creative, courageous work of the Spirit of God. There is a lot of dissing of Christians in this culture, and while that pains me deeply, it is an often legitimate and needed critique of those who don’t look or act like the Christ they say they follow. My experience has shown me that there is often respect and warmth available (not always, but more often than one might think) when people perceive we are trying to live the Jesus way authentically. Not that we are after acceptance. Jesus didn’t court it, look for it, go after it. He, of course, did things that made people furious. But he loved in a way that was astonishing. As Bob Goff says, “Love does.” It acts. And people recognize those who are more concerned about loving well than being right about things. I think I’ve said to you that I’d rather get love right and the other stuff wrong than the other way around. Then folks get into the debate about what love looks like—don’t make it too complicated. If it gets too complicated and convoluted, it’s not love. Paul has a pretty good list in 1 Cor. 13. And then there’s Jesus and lots of other folks who show us well what love looks like.
Find yourself writers to read that speak to you on a deep level. There are writers I come back to over and over because they tug at the best part of me and I always get something when I read their writing. Some of my people are: Richard Rohr, Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, May Sarton, Eugene Peterson, Debbie Blue, Madeline L’Engle, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, Barbara Brown Taylor, Wendell Berry, Rachel Naomi Remen, George Herbert, Rumi, Simone Weil, Stanley Kunitz. I could easily list about 30 others, some of them newer, contemporary, more diverse voices that are speaking to me, but these are standbys and old friends in my personal canon. Build your own bookshelf of writers that speak to you.
As for food, eat good food. Learn to make good food. Cooking is the best tool for learning/practicing mindfulness I have found. And listen to what your body says about the food you eat. I’m still learning this one.
All the above is solid stuff, (if I do say so myself) but it’s really about the people in your life. The quality of your life will be a result of the people in your life. I love the rich friendships you’ve forged in college and plan to keep up with. The richest and best piece of my life is the people in it. I am so blessed in my friendships and in those coming in and out of my life. Henri Nouwen talks about hospitality as recognizing the gift of the other. If you make relationships with safe and solid people (people who aren’t so unhealthy as to use, abuse or betray you) a priority, no matter whatever else life holds for you, you will be rich indeed.
I know you are feeling uncertain and trepidatious about this transition year where you will be preparing for and saving up for the next leg of your journey. I know it feels weird to see your friends accepting jobs all over the country and the world or picking their next schools as you are in limbo–wanting to move forward full steam ahead, but knowing you need some time. Wise girl. Taking time to rest, to recoup, to prepare is never wasted. Life is designed to be a long haul (in the normal course of things) and you don’t have to sprint to the next thing. One thing I am learning as I try to build up the miles I can run at one time is that I can go my own pace. I don’t have to do it fast. When I finally get to the place where I can run a half marathon, it will likely still be around a 10 minute mile. I’m good with that. It will take me a little longer (ok–a lot longer) to get to the finish line than you or your brother, but the point is, I’ll get there. There is absolutely no way I can keep up with either of you for that long. I’ve got to go at my own pace. You do, too. Learning to listen to yourself and what you need, what the next step is for you is huge. If you can go your own pace now, at almost 22, listen to your own life–wow–watch out! You’ve always been strong and remarkably good at knowing what you wanted. Hang onto that. Don’t let the noise around you confuse or sidetrack you. Run your own race at your own pace.
Finally, Get yourself some good, comfortable shoes. You can go a long way if your feet don’t hurt. Those shoes you wore at your graduation? Yeah, no. They will hold you back. You can throw on a pair of cute heels for the fun or wow factor, but mostly, wear good shoes. And take every opportunity to travel. I know you have the travel bug. This is good. So very good. Save up for it. Make it happen. (I’ll go with you whenever.) And be around people who lighten you up and make you laugh and take you dancing. You love to dance and are good at it. I once let people talk me out of dancing. I’m finally learning how to let myself dance again. I’d much prefer if you never stopped now that you’ve started.
That’s most of what I’ve got for now. Give me 5 and I’ll think of ten more things I wanted to say…
Lots of love (your momma’s lol) and so much proud,