Twenty years ago, I graduated from Edwards County High School. My four best girlfriends and I all decorated our graduation caps with matching glitter-fied slogans, we threw confetti, we walked across the stage, out the door and on to bigger and better things.
Twenty years ago. For real.
Time is this strange thing. It ticks by so silently that actual years disappear in a fuzzy cloud of deadlines and papers and late nights, of diapers and toddlers and sleepless nights, of crops and droughts and traded tractors, of magazines and stories and columns. And then you look up and realize that as those years accumulate, whizzing by and leaving you in their wake, you've actually learned some stuff.
With that, here's a bit of what I've picked up along the way. Go forth and change the world, graduates! Because you really can.
Do what you're called to do. The world will tell you that you can be anything and do anything you set your mind to. It's not true. It's like saying I can will myself into being a ballerina. It's not gonna happen. You can, however, be and do anything God has intended for you. And there is real beauty and peace in that place.
Life is about choices, not circumstances. This is courtesy of my friend, Colleen Callahan, and I'm telling you, it may be the most true thing I have ever heard. We live in a world that says this thing happened to me and now my life is bad. Yes, bad things happen and we have little control over them. But we can always, always choose how we respond. And your response will make all the difference.
Just ask. Do not be afraid to shape your life. I'm not suggesting you have total control. But I am suggesting there are times in your life when it will behoove you to ask for what you want. When I interviewed for this job, I asked to work from the farm; they said yes. When I had my first baby, I asked to work part-time; they said yes. When my youngest went to school, I asked to come back full-time; they said yes. There have been plenty of no's along the way, too, but there's a lesson here: Until you ask, the answer is always no.
Know people. Really know them, beyond a surface relationship. People are wonderful! Don't limit yourself to the people in your immediate circle. One of the best things I did in college was get involved outside my ag circles. Do that. Meet people who think differently than you. And don't listen to people who say online friendships aren't real. I have amazing friends, met primarily through social media. I also have a circle of good, good girlfriends in an online Bible study. We see each other but a handful of times every year, but our days are a constant flurry of texts, messages, emails, calls and prayers. This is the stuff.
Do good work. If you work hard and you learn your craft and you do good work, you will be recognized for it. It may take years. It may not show up on a billboard or a trophy. But good work always gets recognized, and you will be known for it. Don't be afraid to toil away quietly. People who shine from within don't need the spotlight.
Make the hard calls. This is potentially more relevant to women than men but I'll say it anyway. Your friendships will change over time, going through times of ebb and flow. Take those four girls I mentioned at the beginning; there have been times when it's hard to feel connected, when maybe they had kids and I didn't and the calls felt awkward and I didn't know what to say. But keep calling. It is worth it. There is much to be said for a friendship that started when you were five. Or 18. Just keep at it.
Work hard, all the time. We live in this world that says fame is good and it's instant and you deserve it. There's a difference between being famous and being infamous. Learn it. And know that fame is deceptive and fleeting and rarely all it's cracked up to be. Likes and shares and retweets and favorites don't really matter. Instead, just do good work. (see "Do good work," above)
Go on the road trip. I don't care where you're going or who you're going with, just go. I've never regretted a single road trip, even the one when I should've been studying for a math quiz in college. Or the one with nine college girls and a hotel called the Pink Porpoise and FM hand radios. You'll talk about them for years and the legends will grow, as they should. Be smart, of course. But go. Just go.
Shift gears as necessary. I went to the University of Illinois to be a doctor. Stop laughing. It's true. And I was determined - determined! - to not be one of those statistics who dropped out of pre-med. But by October of my freshman year, I was sitting in the office of one of my favorite ag communications professors, asking to switch to ag com. I hadn't heard of it two months prior but I knew as I lived and breathed that it was right for me: these are my people. Don't be afraid to say you were wrong and make it right.
Protect your hope. I love my niece, Kaity, for many things. Among them: she is full of hope. She's graduating from high school and life is chock full of one possibility after the next. There is nothing happier than reading her Facebook feed. Those of us who have lived a little more life tend to go through things that chip at our hope. My mother died from cancer, my best friend in childbirth. Life can be hard. Life can (already) be hard for the graduate, too. But there is good - and even hope - in the face of much darkness, if you'll look for it. Look for joy, look for hope, and guard them carefully.