I Gave a Excessive-Faculty Graduation Tackle: 5 Important Paradoxes

Lately, I used to be thrilled to be requested to offer the graduation tackle for my daughter Eleanor’s high-school commencement.

(I apprehensive that Eleanor may not be smitten by this improvement, and I used to be stunned and happy that she was actually completely satisfied about it.)

One word, so the conclusion is smart: The varsity music begins “We go forth unafraid/Robust with love and powerful with studying” and the music’s ultimate line is “Right here now we have discovered to go forth unafraid.”

In writing it, I wished to discover transcendent themes, and I did. However I’ve a really sensible facet, and with out fairly which means to do it, I wrote two graduation addresses: The Profound and The Sensible.

Right here’s the model I gave, about 5 important paradoxes:


Thanks, I’m so honored to be right here. Congratulations to the Head of Faculty, academics, proud households and buddies, and, above all, to the category of 2023.

It’s deeply transferring to me to be right here as a mother or father, to see all of you up on stage, wearing your caps and robes. I keep in mind taking a photograph of Eleanor outdoors Little Dalton on the primary day of kindergarten. I assumed, “She’s already so large!” and comforted myself by pondering, “She’s solely in kindergarten, senior 12 months won’t ever come.”

But right here we’re, at that unattainable milestone. The times are lengthy, however the years are quick.

Now, graduates, no matter you’re doing subsequent, you’re coming into a brand new stage of life. Your folks, your schedule, your metropolis, your relationship to your loved ones, what you eat for breakfast, all could change.

That’s thrilling, and likewise scary.

Chances are you’ll fear, “How do I make sense of what’s coming subsequent, if all I do know is highschool?” In case you’re something like me, time and again in life, you’ll end up pondering, “Gosh, this is rather like highschool!” Life is highschool; it’s simply that prime college is the primary time we discover it.

Time and again, now we have to begin over—discover our place, discover our buddies, discover our option to be on this planet.

I examine happiness and human nature, and I’ve found one thing shocking: The other of a profound reality can also be true. So the examine of happiness is commonly the examine of paradoxes.

We grapple with these paradoxes all through our lives, and graduates, you’ve most likely confronted them many occasions already. Now you’re at a time of transition, once they turn out to be notably pressing.

So I supply 5 important paradoxes which will enable you make sense of your experiences—what you’ve skilled prior to now and what you’ll expertise sooner or later. As a result of life is highschool, and highschool is life.

Paradox #1: Be egocentric, if just for selfless causes, and be selfless, if just for egocentric causes.

On the subject of happiness, many individuals ask, “In a world filled with struggling and injustice, is it morally applicable for people to hunt to be happier?”

In truth, analysis exhibits—and expertise confirms—that after we’re happier, we’re extra more likely to interact with the issues of the world, to offer our money and time, to vote, and to be compassionate; and we’re extra all for making change. Happiness doesn’t make folks keep out late and occasion; it helps them resolve, “Let’s begin a campus-wide rooftop photo voltaic program.”

Engaged on our personal happiness strengthens us to deal with the challenges of society. That airline reminder has turn out to be a cliché as a result of it’s true: We every have to safe our personal oxygen masks first, if we’re going to assist different folks.

So, if it is egocentric to attempt to be happier, we must be egocentric, if just for selfless causes.

On the identical time, we must be selfless, if just for egocentric causes. Among the finest methods to make ourselves completely satisfied is to make different folks completely satisfied. Do good, really feel good—it actually works! I keep in mind speaking to a good friend who, in her twenties, had gone by way of a really robust time: her boyfriend broke up along with her, she bought fired, and he or she was rejected from a graduate-school program. I requested her how she bought by way of it, and he or she instructed me, “I used to be virtually hooked on volunteering and doing good deeds. They have been the one issues that made me really feel higher.”

We must be egocentric, if just for selfless causes, and be selfless, if just for egocentric causes.

Paradox #2: You’re distinctive, precisely like everybody else.

You’re certainly one of a form, a singular mixture of skills and pursuits, and the identical factor is true of the folks round you.

We’re all distinctive, and we’re additionally very odd. For example, one of the vital common feelings is the sensation that you just don’t belong. So once you really feel such as you don’t slot in—say, in your first day of freshman 12 months—you match proper in.

Even once you suppose, “Nobody feels the best way I do,” most likely they do. Drummer Ringo Starr instructed a comic story concerning the summer time that the Beatles have been recording the White Album, when he briefly left the group. He visits John Lennon and says, “I’m leaving the group as a result of I’m not taking part in effectively and I really feel unloved…and also you three are actually shut.” John says, “I assumed it was you three!” Then Ringo visits Paul McCartney and says, “I’m leaving the band. I really feel you three guys are actually shut and I’m out of it.” Paul replies, “‘I assumed it was you three!” Ringo doesn’t even hassle to go to George Harrison.

As a result of we’re distinctive, precisely like everybody else, one nice problem of our lives is to know ourselves.

You would possibly suppose, “I do know myself, I hang around with myself all day lengthy,” but it surely’s laborious to know ourselves. We get distracted by the best way we want we have been, or what different folks need us to be, or we take our strengths without any consideration.

As a result of I write about happiness, folks generally say to me, “Give me the quick reply. What’s the greatest, essentially the most scientifically confirmed option to turn out to be happier?”

And I clarify, “There’s no one proper manner. We every must determine it out for ourselves.”

They are saying, “Positive, positive. Simply give me the greatest manner.”

For a very long time, this query stumped me, however now once they ask, “What’s the greatest option to create a cheerful life?” I reply, “What’s one of the best ways to cook dinner an egg?” They are saying, “Nicely, it depends upon how you want your eggs.” I reply, “Proper! We every have the reply that’s proper for us.”

There can’t be a one-size-fits-all reply to inform you find out how to obtain your goals. Different folks can counsel potentialities, however they’ll’t determine it out for you—and you’ll’t determine it out for them.

You’re distinctive, precisely like everybody else.

Paradox #3: Not selecting is a selection.

Throughout occasions of change, such because the one you graduates are coming into, we have to determine what we would like—and that’s daunting. As a result of that query is so laborious, after we’re confronted with selections, it’s simple to float.

 “Drift” is the choice we make by not deciding.

We drift after we really feel like different folks or processes are transferring occasions ahead, and we’re simply being carried alongside. We drift after we discover ourselves doing or getting one thing as a result of the folks round us are doing it or need it. You go to medical college as a result of each your mother and father are medical doctors. You’re taking a job as a result of somebody affords you that job.

We drift as a result of we would like the respect of the folks round us, or we wish to keep away from a combat or a bout of insecurity, or we wish to finish uncertainty, so we take the trail of least resistance.

I drifted into regulation college. I didn’t know what else to do, and I instructed myself, “It will preserve my choices open,” “I can all the time change my thoughts later,” and “I can’t flip down this terrific alternative.”

The phrase “drift” has overtones of laziness or ease. Not true! Drift is commonly disguised by an enormous quantity of effort. For me, regulation college was drift, and it was laborious each step of the best way, from learning for the LSAT to clerking for the Supreme Court docket.

Trying again, I’m glad I went to regulation college—and that’s one other complicated factor about drift! Typically drift does make you cheerful; dangerous decision-making can result in good end result. However don’t depend on it.

Drift is harmful, as a result of after we drift, we’re not mindfully selecting. As writer James Baldwin noted: “In case you don’t reside the one life you’ve gotten, you gained’t reside another life, you gained’t reside any life in any respect.”

In the long run, we should select. As a result of not selecting is a selection.   

Paradox #4: Settle for your self, and likewise anticipate extra from your self.

One nice problem is to be true to ourselves, but additionally push ourselves. This can be a very tough paradox. And also you, on the finish of your high-school years, are most likely very acquainted with it.

Typically it may be laborious to know when to simply accept, “Hey, that’s not me, that’s not my factor,” or when to push ourselves towards a aim that’s uncomfortable.

In certainly one of my first jobs, a piece good friend instructed me that he’d gotten an excellent promotion, however as a part of it, he needed to give weekly displays to a big group—and he hated public talking. When he instructed his boss, his boss mentioned, “It’s okay, in case you don’t wish to do it, I’ll assign that function to another person.”

So my good friend needed to resolve: Settle for himself, or anticipate extra from himself? He pushed himself to offer the displays.

As you think about a troublesome goal, solely you may resolve whether or not it’s the proper goal for you. Must you take Statistics, be part of the intramural basketball crew, audition for the improv group, launch a start-up, run for workplace?

Accept your self, and likewise anticipate extra from your self.

Simply as we are able to use Paradox #4 to assist us perceive how we can think about ourselves, we are able to use Paradox #5 to assist us perceive how others think about us. 

Paradox #5: Love is unconditional, and love is demanding.

Graduates, I’m positive you’ve felt the load of this paradox—most likely, fairly lately! Love accepts you simply as you’re, and love expects the very best from you.

I heard an excellent instance of this paradox from musician Rosanne Money, a couple of dialog she had along with her husband and musical collaborator, John Leventhal. 

The 2 have been in Nashville, the place Rosanne did a visitor session on one other band’s album; John got here alongside to hang around throughout the recording. After the session, he didn’t say something, so Rosanne requested, “How did you prefer it?” He answered, “I might have pushed you tougher.”

Love says, “You’re the very best,” and love says, “You are able to do higher.”

Graduates, generally, the folks round you—mother and father, academics, bosses, coaches, buddies—could get this incorrect; as a result of we see a lot good, we don’t notice after we’re pushing too laborious. However when you concentrate on all of the reminders, to-do lists, and lectures you’ve acquired, keep in mind, our insistence that you just reside as much as your potential is an expression of our boundless love.

Love is unconditional, and love is demanding.

So these are 5 paradoxes for at the present time, which celebrates each an ending and a commencing.

And right here’s a bonus paradox: I’m unhappy to see the years at Dalton come to an finish, and I’m completely satisfied, too. I’m unhappy to say farewell to an establishment that my household loves, and completely satisfied to see all you graduates, able to exit into the world, robust with love and powerful with studying. Now it’s time to go forth unafraid.