Editor’s Note: This first appeared on the Carson Valley Times on May 26, 2016
To the Class of 2016,
As you grow older, you’ll start to mark, with a measure of minor panic, the passage of time in random and unique ways.
First, it’ll be your friends getting married. Then, you’ll see their kids tagging along when you pass them in the grocery store, and you’ll think “Oh my, it couldn’t have been that long since I saw you last …”
You’ll read a story about the 20th anniversary of your favorite childhood movie being released – accompanied by an uncomfortable photo gallery of “Where They Are Now” (Spoiler alert: None of them are acting anymore. Most of them are firefighters. Or producers.).
Then it starts getting serious: Gray hair just starts sprouting forth uninvited from your head, like an over-watered Chia Pet.
Your back starts hurting — for no reason other than you lifted a Pop Tart too quickly from the counter to your mouth — and it doesn’t stop hurting for days … maybe weeks.
And then the death knell: You’ll hear a song on the radio from high school – one that was part of the quiet soundtrack of your teenage years – and when they cut to commercial break, you learn you’re listening to the Oldies station.
It happens, my friends. And it’ll happen sooner than you can possibly be prepared for.
As I prepared to graduate from Douglas High these 18 years ago, “Seinfeld” was wrapping up its nine-year run on TV, they were finally building a Taco Bell in town, gas at the AM/PM in Minden (we didn’t have one in Gardnerville yet) was 97 cents per gallon and most of you were busy being born.
It’s one of those rare intersections of time in life where my first step into adulthood was taking place at the same time you all were being introduced to life.
So today, as I reflect on what has been a literal lifetime for you since my graduating class was sitting in the same seats you’ll be sitting in this evening, let me pass on a couple of things I’ve learned:
Look Around: Seriously, take a couple of minutes in every change of scenery you experience today and look around. Just look. Look at the faces, places, people and things. It is all a bit overwhelming right now – but this is a day you’ll remember long, long past much of what has happened over the past four years for you. Nothing will be the same tomorrow, but the memories of what you see today will linger on for, well, the next 18 years at least.
Don’t miss a chance to talk to anyone and everyone you see.
I have a vivid memory of sitting between two people I’d grown up with during the ceremony. One I never saw again. Ever. The other I see every day as we drop our children off to their kindergarten class together.
Life in this Valley is just like that.
The People Matter: A lot, actually. You’ll have many jobs over the next 18 years as you get on your feet. Let me tell you this right now — every single one of them will have its fair share of good and bad, easy and tough. While it is absolutely possible to absolutely love what you do, realize now that even the best jobs are still a lot of hard work if they are worth doing for any length of time.
When you look back on the old jobs, the good and bad just sort of fade away. What you really remember at that point is the people. They’re the fabric of the stories you tell your kids about when you used to work here, or there. They’re the friends you run into and share an easy 10 minutes with as though no time has passed at all.
It’s the same with your fellow graduates today. Paths will go their separate ways, but they tend to intersect — all over the world at times — and you’ll never cease to be amazed at what people from your hometown accomplish, at where you end up seeing them. Take the extra couple of minutes to talk with them, let them know what they mean to you and that they can always give you a call. You just never know when you’ll get the next chance.
There is a common bond shared in coming from Carson Valley: An invisible card you carry through the rest of your life. An instant hook into conversation, and a home base to look back upon when far from home. Carry it proudly.
Thank One Of Your Teachers Today: Or two or three. For those of you who continue your education, something will become very apparent to you in the coming years (whether or not you realize it today): The teachers you have had over the past four years are the best. Anywhere.
At no other time in your life will you have as many people who aren’t related to you in your corner, rooting for your success.
At no other time in your life will you have as many people personally invested in you, your education and your career path as you do right now. There will be talented teachers, and dynamic instructors and wise counselors ahead. And you’ll learn a lot from each of them, and be challenged.
But you’ll come back here – maybe in four years, maybe in 10 – and run into one of your teachers. They’ll recognize you in an instant, ask about you, your family, your life and your dreams. And they’ll truly care about the answer.
They’ll have looked you up once or twice, or inquired about you, just to see what you were up to and how you are doing. Because they played a part in getting you there, and they want so badly to see it go well with you.
Sometimes, It Just Doesn’t Work Out: There’s no other way to say this, and I can only say it from experience: You’ll do your absolute best at times — expend the utmost effort and perform to the very best of your abilities — and it just won’t work out.
It’s OK. Failure is an important part of life. Success very rarely defines anyone; but it is often the end result of a long chain of failures made into lessons, made into a better path.
So when it happens – when you’ve worked your hardest and seen it all fall apart in your hands, let that be a defining moment for you. Do you give up? Or do you keep plugging away and find a way to do it better than before?
What you’ll find as the years go on is that neither success or failure are permanent. How you respond to either, though, will bear significant weight on which direction you go next. It will also leave a much stronger statement as to who you are than any singular outcome.
Finally, Don’t Forget Where You Came From: You come from a truly unique and remarkable community.
Wherever you go, don’t miss what it has done for you.
This is a community that works tirelessly to support the programs you’ve been involved in. When it sees someone in need, it rallies to their aid. It celebrates your victories, marvels in your achievements and aches in your defeats.
Maybe it’ll be a lifetime home for you. Maybe not.
If you stay, be a part of it – holding the door open for the next person, stopping to help change a flat tire or corral a runaway dog … or cow.
If you go, take it with you – A friendly smile, a caring heart, an extra five minutes of your time. It’ll mean the world to someone.
Whatever the case, everything changes for you starting today. Tomorrow is a blank page. Make it worth reading. We know, without a doubt, that you are capable of it.