It’s June 1965, northwestern Pennsylvania. Lilacs and lily of the valley bloom; black-hooded cardinal fledglings in unabashed shades of coral jostle out of nests for first flights; the air itself seems full of promise. I’m graduating from high school, ready to take on the world.
Fast-forward to June 2013, northwestern Nevada. Lupine and poppies cover the hillsides; sturdy magpie fledglings test their white and blue-black wings; the air itself seems full of promise. New graduates, including my granddaughter, are ready to take on the world.
Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed.
As my parents and grandparents did, I’ll share what I’ve learned with our graduate as she enters her brave new world. This is what I’ll say:
Perfect one virtue: humility. Humility requires the courage of introspection, examination of ethics, recognition of diverse perspectives (each may reveal truth), and the possibility of misunderstanding or mistake. Reject self-righteousness, which implies that there is no other way but ours. Our society has devalued humility; make it important in your private and public life.
As you go forward, arm yourself with knowledge of history. Though civilizations end, humanity perseveres; so excuses for inaction or predictions of doomsday are failures of the imagination, and worse, deny hope. Embrace President John F. Kennedy’s challenge: “One man can make a difference, and every man must try.”
So speak out when the time is right, though speaking is risky because words reveal who we are. But “to remain silent and indifferent,” according to Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, “is the greatest sin of all.”
Don’t be afraid of risks. Because the future is mostly unknown and unpredictable, we’re tempted to be timid. But if you risk nothing, you won’t experience failure, the great teacher. NASA’s Daniel Goldin said, “Not experiencing any failure in life is rarely a sign of perfection; rather it’s a sign that your goals aren’t bold enough.”
So be bold. Steve Jobs, Apple Computer and Pixar Animation Studios CEO, didn’t graduate from college, yet he started Apple in his parents’ garage when he was 20. He said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Imagine the possibilities! You, with your fellow citizens of the new world, will invent the new machine, formulate the new medicine, realize the new economic theory. You will compose the new music, raise the new family, discover the new secret of the cosmos.
You will break the old record, teach the future Nobel Prize winner, refuse to fight the wrong war. You will excise the gene of hatred.
You will be, in the words of Mark Twain, “the makers of the earth after God,” just as my generation was before you. We’re counting on you to do it better.
Marilee Swirczek is professor emeritus, Western Nevada College, and lives in Carson City.