I want to graduate every year!

I went to Earlham College, class of 2003. It was four of the most challenging, amazing years in my life. Earlham is truly special place. It is a place where the students and professors are on a never ending journey in search of learning, truth, and goodness. These are mighty cheesy words I am writing about this college you have never heard of, but they are true, and there is no other way to describe this place.

I could go on and on. And I will, over time, bit by bit. Today, I want to share with you one of the things I have done every year since 2003. I read the baccalaureate address. Earlham is different from most higher learning institutions. We do not invite speakers from outside to come in for our final day as undergraduates. Instead, we elect one of our faculty member to speak. It is an intimate experience, even if you have never had that particular professor before. It is a small campus, and you know who they are, and have heard stories. One day I will post a link to the baccalaureate address one of my favorite professors gave during my graduation (just have to figure out how in the hellinsky to do that). It is something I always go back to read whenever I need to be reminded of Earlham or what my mission out here in the big bad world is.

Every year, at this time, graduations are happening all over, and a nostalgic warm breeze flows over me. I relish the feeling and the memories of my own graduations that come rushing back. Kids looking at their yearbooks next to me on the bus, undergrads talking about the real world, ceremonies and parties are happening everywhere. Every year, at this time, I head back to the old Earlham website and read the baccalaureate address for this year's graduating class.

For the class of 2009 (holy bejeezus, time is flying by) Chuck Yates spoke. I never took a class from him, but he was one of those professors who had his formative years during the 60's and 70's. He co-taught a class about the Vietnam war, which he fought in. He was one of those teachers that you see in the movies. Think Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society.

He wrote a top ten list for his speech. Some of the baccalaureate speeches resonate with me more than others. This one is going to stay on my hard drive for some time. Since I am utterly busy preparing for my committee meeting next week I thought you might enjoy reading it too. One day at a time.


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Here is number 10. I edited out part of the first introductory part. After day 10 I will post the link if you want to read it all together.

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Today is all about you guys, and I’m honored to be the one who gets to stand up here and fuss over you in public. One last chance to mess with your heads. Heh heh heh. So the question is, what can I say to a bunch of EC grads, to let them know what a big deal it is that they are EC grads, and to send them out the front gate with their heads up and their hearts open?

Well, I’m not sure I know the answer to that one, but what you get today is a Top Ten List. Chuck’s top ten secrets to a long, happy, useful, productive, and meaningful life.

Now don’t get excited. This is not gonna be the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. (4) If that’s what you want, you need to go find Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox. I don’t claim to have the last word on any of this stuff.

The main thing you learn as you make your way through the process of becoming what we laughingly refer to as a grownup is that, even if there are rules about how to do this life thing, they’re not written down anywhere. There’s no owner’s manual, no operating instructions, no how-to books.

I’m as clueless after six decades as I was after six years. The real difference between grownups and kids is that the grownups have had more practice at making it
look like they know what they’re doing, and growing up is mostly just a process of getting good at being clueless and getting your thing done anyway. (This is especially true of tenured white male professors.)

So what I have for you today is just a few odds and ends — insights and observations that’ve stuck with me as I made my way down the line. They’ve been useful to me. I hope at least some of ‘em will be useful to you too. Chuck’s top ten secrets to a long, happy, useful, productive, and meaningful life.

It’s what you’ve been getting from me all along, so here’s one last dose for the road.

Number Ten: Figure out what you like to do and then find someone who’ll pay you to do it. “But won’t it stop being fun if it’s just a job?” you ask. Well, sure, if it’s
just a job. Anything you do for a living can fossilize into mindless routine, if you let it. That’s one of the main reasons why people have hobbies, and why a lot of people seem more passionate about their pastimes than about their professions. It’s those “lives of quiet desperation” Thoreau was talking about. (5)

But if you start off with something you’re
already passionate about, and keep challenging yourself — every day — to stay passionate about it, you may be one of those lucky folk whose work gives them the same gratification most folks get only from a hobby. And then — then you’re getting paid to do your hobby. It doesn’t get any better. Look at me. I’m living proof, and if I can make it work, anyone can.

But don’t go where the
money is good; go where the work is good, where the good comes from the difference the work makes in your life and the lives of others. And keep your focus where it needs to be. Remember what I learned from my dad years ago: the fishing is always good, but only if you’re out there for the fishing. Sometimes the catching is good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s really bad, so if catching is what you’re there for, you’re gonna be unhappy a lot of the time. But forget about the catching, and keep your focus on the fishing, and the fishing will always be good.

And pay attention to that “every day” thing too. That’s the thread that holds all these beads together. Every day.
You Have To Start Over Every Day. You only get to live one day at a time anyway. Live each one as if it’s the only one you’ve got — it is. That’s not hooey. Deal with it.

Today is not the first day of the rest of your life. It is your life. As a little known songwriter said once, back in the ‘70s, “the movin’ and the livin’ are the same.”(6) Today is all you’ve got, and you only get one chance at it.
Be Here Now, and make it as good as you can.

Sources:

4. Douglas Adams,
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide, New York: Wings Books, 1996, 119-20.
5. Henry David Thoreau,
Walden, or Life in the Woods, New York: Signet, 1999,
6. Charles L. Yates,
The Movin’ and the Livin’, Golden Hollow Publishing, BMI, 1978.



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