A Commencement Speech for the Graduates of 2012

          Published May 4, 2012, Pawtucket Times

          In the upcoming months, commencement speakers at many ofRhode Island’s Colleges and Universities will give the Class of 2012 their sage advice as to how they can successfully find their niche in our society, scarred by one of the greatest economic downturns in the history of our nation. 

         Robed graduating seniors will sit listening closely to these commencement speeches, given by well-known lawmakers, judges, television personalities and CEOs, detailing simple tips and observations that if taken, just might offer the graduates a more rewarding personal and professional life.

         The graduates of 2012 will begin their new life journey with many challenges to face. Gas prices continue to spiral out of control, heading to $4.00 per gallon.  Mortgage rates decline to the lowest level in decades, but most of these students, burdened by huge student loan debt, leave college without a job, adequate credit rating or down payment to purchase  a home.  TheOcean State continues to be one of the last states to see its economy revive.  While a ‘buy-local’ movement has grown over the years inRhode Islandto support small businesses, an emerging global economy bankrupts companies and takes away jobs. 

         What sage advice can this columnist give these young college graduates that could provide a road map on how one can live a more healthy fulfilling life, to age gracefully, in a changing world? 

 Sound advice for 2012 Graduates

        As an aging baby boomer, if I were asked to give my thoughts before hundreds of graduating seniors, I would urge them to grow old gracefully and not fight against it.  Some people feverishly attempt to hold onto their youth, fearing the onset of wrinkles, sagging stomachs and gray hair. As you move into your middle years and beyond, why not learn to see your life as a journey, keeping focused on the present moment, and not place so much attention on the future. 

       As you grow older when facing life’s health, financial, and professional challenges, always focus on the positive rather than the negative.  Each day you will make daily choices as to how you will tackle and react to life’s daily problems and difficulties.  In every situation, you can see the proverbial glass as either “half-full” or “half-empty”.  A positive attitude allows you to begin to successfully age.

Forgive Yourself and Others

        As we grow older, it becomes so easy to reflect on our defeats and focus more on the “bad hand” we were dealt throughout our lives.  Each and every day, savor your personal and professional victories, but remember to forgive yourself for your failures. 

       Simply put, don’t dwell in your past, but instead live and appreciate the present moment.    In your adult years, time flies by rapidly, to some like a blink of an eye.  A Hindu spiritual teacher tells her followers to view their life as a ‘cancelled check’. Let go of those past regrets, forgive yourself for those mistakes you made in your childhood, especially those you made well into your adult years.  Don’t regret passing up opportunities, for others will come.  Use your time wisely; don’t waste it carrying the burdens of past guilt or grudges. 

        Yes, learn to forgive yourself and others who hurt you personally and professionally.  You cannot live or reconcile your life peacefully if you are still holding on the grudges, anger and bitterness, all tied to past experiences.

        As you grow older and accumulate life experiences, don’t be afraid to share your story with others, especially with younger people.  You will have a huge reservoir of untapped wisdom gained through life’s trials.  As a parent or later a grandparent, share your insights and lessons you have learned throughout the cyclical ups and downs of your life.  The generations following you will be at a loss if you choose to remain silent and keep your knowledge and history from them.

       Use it or lose it.  “Stay as physically active as you can,” URI Gerontologist Phil Clark told me years ago.  He said, “If you rest, you rust.”  Physical exercise elevates our mood and benefits your cardiovascular system!

       Aging research also tells us that you must also exercise your brain.  Make the time to read your newspapers, magazines and books, or working on a challenging crossword puzzle, or playing chess.

       See the bigger picture of life. Sometimes it is not the big things that count but the simple daily acts of loving kindness you give to others.  Research tells us that volunteer work can be a protective buffer from the curve balls that life may throw as we age.

       Keep up your social contacts and personal connections with others. When you require help, don’t be afraid to ask your family, friends, and colleagues for support and assistance.  There will always be opportunities for you to help and care for others, too. \

Enjoy Simplicity in Your Life

       Learn to slow down and enjoy the simple moments of your life.  Author Connie Goldman notes that the simple act of watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even puttering around your garden can be as stimulating as a jam-packed calendar of activities.

       There are no sure bets in life except death, taxes, and growing old.  So, Class 2012, make the most of your life. Embrace your later years and go for the gusto.  Enjoy your journey.

        Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging and health care issues.  His Commentaries are printed in two Rhode Island daily’s The Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call.