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Words for graduates

May 3, 2008

As finals time begins, continues and, eventually, ends, I realize that some of my closest friends will be graduating and leaving. I have no idea if I’ll see a lot of them again, and I probably won’t get the chance to say any “last words,” because I’m not very good at it and I usually avoid it. I hate good-byes. I draw them out awkwardly, in that I’ve-already-hugged-you-shrugged-my-shoulders-sighed-heavily-and-hugged-you-again sort of way. You know what I’m talking about. So since I’m terrible at “last words,” I figured I’d share someone else’s last words with you in my place.

Here is the transcript to Garrett Gravesen’s 2003 commencement address. His picture is that crazy one up there. At the top of the page is this presumptuous title:

In what many have called the greatest speech ever given at the University of Georgia, Garrett Gravesen delivers the commencement Speech to the Graduating Class of 2003 encouraging everyone to be a HERO.

I was understandably skeptical at first glance, but do yourself a favor and read through it. You’ll laugh out loud, struggle to not tear up and get that warm-fuzzy feeling inside. For those who don’t know, Garrett — along with Ryan Gembala — founded HERO for Children, the UGA chapter of which is now a huge philanthropy. Check out their story here. And here are some choice words that I jealously wish I had come up with on my own…but I didn’t.

“Regardless, there is one thing that connects us all. Within each and every one of us is a Voice. I am not sure where it comes from. Maybe it’s the natural or the supernatural, maybe its from within or a land far away I don’t know. This voice speaks to us when we are younger and we think we can conquer the world. As we get older, however, other people tell us everything we are un-able to do in life and sooner or later most people start believing this until one day that voice is gone and never comes back again.”

These words about Voice harken back to an earlier post that I made regarding childhood dreams (refresher). It’s incredible that a graduating college senior already has such words like this. Imagine being in the class of ’03, sitting in Sanford Stadium, sweating beyond belief, hearing these words and wondering how your college career could have been different if you’d heard them freshman year. How did one of your peers find such an incredible passion? How did he give up everything the world thought important for a risk and a whim? And how in the world did that whim turn into such a life-changer, city-changer and nation-changer?

About that time you might realize that, no matter what you did or didn’t do here at UGA, you’ve left your mark. It may not be as big or obvious as Garrett’s, but you realize that you couldn’t avoid impacting others’ lives. It’s why you were all accepted here and ultimately, it’s why you chose to attend here. Because you knew — somehow deep inside — that UGA would give you that opportunity to change lives.

Then you snap back to the speech and Garrett comes at you with this:

“All I can say is that love is a work in progress. Never let yourself get so angry that you stop loving because one day you will wake up from that anger and the person you love will be gone. Remember that marriage is indeed a commitment, the wedding ring is a circle of trust and the time you spend with your significant other and those treasured moments you spend with the children you bring into the world are more important that any job you will ever get or money you may make.”

Love is a work in progress.

Holy crap! So true! You give a little amen in your head, you nod approval, you maybe even clench your fist in confirmation. But you know. This man — young adult, really — is speaking about things much bigger than he is…and much bigger than any of us are. LOVE…a work in progress. Wow.

And you realize that it is true. Love is always something you’re working toward. Not that you can never achieve it or that you can never find it or that you can never experience it. But that there’s always more to it. There’s always more love to experience. Whether it’s in the realm of friendship, intimacy, spirituality, family or whatever, there’s always more love than you can imagine. More than you can fathom. And more than you can wrap your head around. And you’re comforted that again, no matter what you did or didn’t do during college, you found love. True, lasting, deep love. From roommates, from your parents, from your professors, from your boyfriend or girlfriend. There’s someone who’ll be there for you. No matter what. And you ponder that for a second with a smile. And you again snap back to the present day.

And you see this amazing man leave the stage, the last few words you hear being these:

“As we go out and descend upon the world…Always leave more than anyone expects. Our lives are not all the same, but the voice inside of us is. Where it leads you-may all of you follow…There were friendships built and relationships lost, there were laughs that have brought us together and tears that have driven us apart, but it is all of this that has made college worthwhile.”

And as you look around, at the crowd, at the faculty, at your classmates and at yourself you realize one last thing. This is what you’ve been working for. It’s been (at least) 4 years probably, and you’ve been preparing for this moment. It’s your time. And your childhood hero Dr. Seuss comes back to mind:

“Today is your day! your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way.”

So now, class of 2008, you’re all incredible. We’ve all been blessed beyond belief by your presence on this campus, and you’ll be sorely missed. And, personally, I can’t wait to see how much of the world you conquer by the time I graduate. We’ve got big shoes to fill.

And if you want to see another great UGA commencement speech, check out Kevin Scott‘s address from this past fall of ’07 (in two installments):

Part 2:

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