Commencement speech season is here again. Some lines are motivational, like “don’t sit on the sidelines” (Tim Cook). Others give life advice: “Corvettes are better than Porsches” (Joe Biden).
Last year on this day, I sat in the sun listening to Fed Chair Janet Yellen speak to a crowd of students sweating in purple robes at Yankee Stadium. (Read the speech on the Federal Reserve website.)
“I hope that you can find joy in the lives you choose,” she said in the same tone as her stately speeches on monetary policy. “You are completing one important phase of your life today and embarking on an amazing new adventure.”
How much blood, sweat and tears it took for many to get into those campus doors, and often even more to get out of them for a piece of paper. The saying goes that of sleep, work and a social life, one must give in order to keep the other two. The nagging question is if the stress was worth it. LinkedIn profiles filled with achievements, student clubs and degrees make me wonder if being part of everything makes a person someone.
College taught me the importance of prioritizing. Otherwise, in the flurry of student activities and New York City events, I’d lose myself. I didn’t know how essential that juggling skill would be after graduation.
Emerging from the student bubble released my time from the constraints of grades, term papers and extracurriculars. Anything was possible: to take a road trip. Bum out at home. Begin a career. Launch a business. Start a band.
The whole world was waiting, and the whole world was weighing. Boundless opportunities were matched by intense responsibility for myself. In the sudden freedom I missed the professors who watch my every step and patiently share their intellectual passions every semester with often burned-out students. I secretly desired the safety of structure.
After graduation I realized that in many ways I hadn’t even begun to live. The sliver of society I encountered at NYU was hardly representative of the swath of individuals in the city or the world. Still, leaving college put me into a global social class of college degree holders. Divergent paths trace back to a similar few years at an institution.
I discovered that adults, living and dead, were my age when they decided to immigrate, become a missionary, or begin working at some firm. Many of them embraced a social cause.
As I considered my own motivations for work, I wondered what compelled those individuals to make those decisions. Why did a silversmith named Paul Revere get involved with the American Revolution?
One year after my commencement, I’ve relished freedom from grades and the ability to spend all my time doing what I love. Every day is a fresh learning experience and a news challenge. Each moment reminds me that time is scarce.
Graduation is a marker. 365 days later is a placeholder, with all my energy focused forward. In these few weeks, thousands of commencement speeches will fall on young ears as easily remembered, or forgotten.
But one line everyone knows: “Stay hungry. Stay foolish” (Steve Jobs).