The Post-Graduation Speech or “Why I forgot to say Mazel Tov”

Disclaimer: The following words are not meant for the faint of heart.  They may include ideas and concepts that challenge and contradict many of the underlying ideologies that drive our current society.  I don’t mean to offend.  I want to challenge how you think.  If you don’t agree with me, that’s ok.  But maybe think a bit before the gut reaction.  The following also may include lines that don’t make sense.  I have self-diagnosed ADD and not much time, so I’m driving at content over clarity.  Bless you.

As June gloom lifts to the reported lazy days of summer, our college graduates go out into the world with the training that they invested thousands of dollars and 35,040 hours of their lives.  Do you have clarity where to go from here?  Job wise?  Life wise?  Are you already starting to reminisce about the good old days?  Has responsibility started creeping up on you?  With the advent of internships and grad schools, perhaps not.  When will it?  When should it?

One of the primary mistakes that our society indoctrinates us with is that a job and direction in life are synonymous.  Even if you’re on the “making people’s life better” track (which is really every job I hope) the day in and day out of life will likely lead you, if not now then in another 30 years, to ask “is this the point of my life??”  Once you even ask the question, you’ll have to accept that the answer is “no.”

As a campus rabbi, I find myself forgetting to wish people “mazel tov” on their graduation, because I’m not sure what they finished.  I have the rare opportunity to get to know people for who they are, not their student number, their GPA, or sometimes even major.  I don’t think it matters so much.  Frankly, a piece of paper that may or may not (statistically not) get you a job doesn’t mean you’re ready for the next stage in your life.  Most graduates don’t even know what the next stage will be.  Grad student?  Young professional?  What makes those stages different from college besides different kinds of tests and hopefully a little bit more money (or not).

College graduates have to realize they are most of the way through the foundational stages of their lives.  Now four years out of high school, you’ve had time to learn about yourself.  Did you?  Do you know who you are and what you hope to accomplish?   Sure you know your “limits.”  But do you know you? Sorry to offend, but at this stage you should.  You should have some idea.  For thousands of years of human history, by the time someone turned 22, they had an idea about what or where their lives should be headed.  I hate to say it but most were married.  Most knew what they wanted to do.  And I’d like to submit that maybe they were on to something.  Could be that by now people should know what direction they want in life.

A brilliant rabbi said that the teenage years were an American invention.  In other societies, during the teenage years, when the body and mind are naturally becoming mature, people were out working, getting married, and starting their lives.  Now that we have technology, and school, and college, the teenage years have become a time of angst, and looking forward, and awkwardness.  But at least we grow up in college.  Until Animal House came out.  And now college is the time to party with no responsibilities (yes I was a history major, no I wasn’t an engineer or a bio major, but you still probably don’t know what you want out of life besides a good job).

At least post college we can get serious. Until our dear Jewish compatriot Zach Braff came out with Garden State, which gave people an insight that it was normal to go moping through your twenties looking for meaning as long as there are friends and drinking and the Shins (a band for the non-emo people out there) playing in the background.  He’s coming out with a new movie about how you do that in your 30’s also.

Point is, as a society, we are increasingly delaying the age of maturation.  Because why mature when it’s hard?  Why take responsibility and commitment when we don’t have to?  Why settle down?  I was very pleasantly surprised to read in the introduction to the famous book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that most self-help books from the time America started until World War 1 advocated that people change themselves in order to become successful.  People would have to try to become better, more focused, honest, virtuous, service-oriented, etc.  After World War 1, the self-help industry changed to teaching people how to affect how others saw them.  The author of the book argues that this shift lead to the terrible dichotomy in people’s lives today, where they are living a perception that isn’t them.

So, deep down, screaming out, maybe there is a voice inside that says “hey I don’t know where I’m going yet.”  On the outside, I have a job or a grad school or a life.  Is this the direction I’m supposed to go in?  Am I becoming who I want to be?  Do I want to be a dentist?  Is that what I want to do so much that once I leave or retire I have no other aspirations in life?  I want to travel.  Why?  I want to be rich.  So you can do what?

Growth starts with a commitment.  Commitment can and should come with cutting off your other options.  Cutting off options requires self confidence.  Self confidence starts with self knowledge.  Self knowledge starts with introspection.  Do we think?  Do we care?  Or do we just take the pill called “partying” or “internships” or “grad school” to punt until someone comes to us and offers us a meaning or a job or a thing we can buy into?

It’s funny.  Everyone on Facebook is having fun.  Everyone is having a good time and taking over the world.  So many friends.  On LinkedIn, everyone has so many impressive job titles.  It’s because we pick the pictures we want, and write the titles that make us sound good.  And what we pick and what we want happens to make us look and sound like everyone else on a social media website.  So go live.  Become something unique.  Try to live a life that is so unique that people have to create labels for you.    Try to formulate an opinion without checking how the media or Facebook or the news thinks about you.  YOUR JOB DOESN’T DEFINE YOU.  DEFINE YOUR JOB.  What are you here for?  What will your contribution be.  The world doesn’t need another rabbi, doctor, lawyer, salesman, executive, or intern.  The world needs you.  Did college teach you who you were?  If it did, congratulations on graduating.  If not, and you’re like I was, and everyone else is, welcome to the kindergarten of adulthood.  Lesson one, figure out who you are.