By Jacob Knutson
To my fellow graduates, our families, and our teachers:
Before I get to the “life advice that you will soon forget” portion of my letter, I would love for you to take 15 seconds. Yes, 15 agonizing, incessant seconds, if you will, to think about some of the people who helped you get to this milestone we’re achieving, to graduation. Think of the people who loved you and without whose care and generosity you may not have found yourself graduating from Central, or may not be watching someone you love graduating, or may not be seeing your students graduating. Think for just 15 seconds of those who have loved us, every moment of the way, into this day.
Those people are so proud of you today. I will return to them soon, but first I have to deliver terrible news, which is that we are all going to die.
I remember the first time I realized that I would one day die, and that everything I ever thought, created, or experienced would be deteriorated by the sands of time. It was on the ride home from the fourth grade. Yes, I am aware, I was, and still am to some extent, a strange child. I spent the car ride crying and telling my mother I would miss her so much, and she replied with Everything’s going to be okay and just not to think about it. But, just as any unruly child, I refused to expel this thought from my head. And to this day those thoughts still inch into my mind, but today they do not reduce me to a sobbing, blubbering child, but drive my actions. I would argue that it’s good to be aware of our temporariness on a day such as today, when we are pondering the question of what our individual purposes are. And when we are considering what is the good life we want to live in the small time we have on earth.
Now I would like to note that the default assumption of a human life is to be as successful as possible. To acquire fame, or glory, or money. And we define this success by quantifiable metrics like the numbers of Twitter followers, or Instagram likes, or digits in some invisible bank account. And the individuals we adorn as our heroes follow this belief. They began with no money and now have collected so much of it. Their videos have amassed millions of views on YouTube, and their faces decorate most of the magazines on the shelves.
But the best heroic stories are so much more than that, though they have a similar ring. The heroes of these great stories started out an ugly duckling and ended a beautiful swan, or started out an awkward girl and ended a vampire mother, or began an orphan living under the staircase, and ended a wizard who saves the whole world. But in each of those stories, the true hero is marred by failure, disappointment, anger, but most of all, change. I would argue that the terrible events for those heroes initiated their change. That Harry Potter would not have become the hero he was without witnessing the deaths of many of his companions, or the ugly duckling wouldn’t have become a beautiful swan without first conquering her self confidence issues.
After we step through those doors Sunday and continue our expedition of becoming a doctor, a marine, a singer, or anything else, we will go from the top of our school to the bottom rung. But be not discouraged, because we stepped through Central’s off-red doors the first day of freshman year, and here we are today. We found strength in being so green, experienced love, sadness, happiness: we experienced life. To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” Because of our struggles we face today we will be better able to contextualize and maybe find the joy and knowledge in our future failures.
For the rest of your life, if you remember your hero’s excursion you will be a better person. You will be caring, compassionate, and become a mentor. In short, you will become like the people you imagined in silence just a few moments ago. And let me submit to you that this is the actual definition of a good life and what it means to succeed. You want to be the kind of person who other people, people who may not even be born yet, will think about in their own silences years from now as they approach their own commencement celebrations. And I am going to hazard a guess here that relatively few of us closed our eyes and thought of all the work and love that Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber put into making this moment possible for us. Pop culture may have taught that the true people to admire or emulate are actors, musicians, athletes, or professionally famous people, but when we look at the people who have helped us, the people who actually changed lives, relatively few are publicly celebrated. We don’t think of the money they had, but of their generosity. We don’t think of how beautiful or powerful they were, but how willing they were to make sacrifices for us. So willing at times, that we may not have even noticed they were making sacrifices.
In closing, let us strive to achieve these four life guidelines: First, always tell someone how much they matter to you, because as said before, we are temporary beings. Second, let us look at differences as things of beauty, and not things of ugliness. Third, never let anyone make you feel inferior without your consent. And lastly instead of living our lives TGIF after TGIF, let us live by TGIAs: Thank God I’m alive.