This is the student graduation address I gave on May 14th, 2000 at Mesa State College:
(read the local newspaper writeup)
Introduction by President of Mesa State College:
Ben is graduating with a Biology major and a Chemistry Minor. Before attending Mesa, he spent 4 years traveling the world, including 3 years in the Far East where he traveled extensively, while studying Chinese. He paid his way by teaching English in Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan.
While at Mesa, he was involved in numerous clubs and was an active member of the Associated Student Government for three and a half years. He put himself through Mesa by working as a computer consultant and website designer. He recently expanded his company into a software development company specializing in interactive, database-driven websites.
Ben’s future plans include expanding his software company and eventually staging a hostile take-over of Microsoft.
Too many of us live our lives passively, going day-to-day, without stopping to figure out what makes us happiest. I’m talking about living your passion. This has nothing to do with making money, having a nice house or dating a supermodel. It’s about doing what you love, so you never have to actually “work.” Take the thing that makes you happiest and turn it into a career. I know you have to pay the bills, but if you live your life to pay the bills, you will die without ever having lived.
I challenge you to name one man or woman who was great and truly “successful,” who didn’t follow their passion. Beethoven and Einstein were only great because they were fantastic at one thing and they pursued it successfully. They followed their passions. If Beethoven’s parents had forced him to be an accountant, I guarantee you I would not be standing here today, talking about “Beethoven: The Greatest Accountant To Ever Live!” because it wasn’t his thing.
Take a second, right now, to grab hold of your future and begin to realize it. Close your eyes and imagine yourself ten years down the road. Imagine every aspect of your own life. Your job, your spouse, your kids, your friends. Don’t simply imagine the future towards which you are heading, but rather the future which you consider ideal. Forget the expectations which your parents, friends, teachers and relatives have for you, as well as the one’s you have for yourself. Ignore, for just a second, all those expectations and concentrate on what you want. [Pause] Now visualize the road that will take you there. That is your path.
As Dr. Gallagher mentioned, I spent three years traveling in the Far East after high school. I gained a lot of life perspective and learned amazing things about myself and the world. When I returned, the faculty of my high school invited me to speak to the students. I accepted and spoke about was how, for a few thousand dollars (a fraction of the cost of college), they could spend a year trekking in Nepal, learning Chinese in Taiwan, bush whacking in Indonesia, meeting new people from dozens of countries and enjoying the intricacies of a colony like Hong Kong. By seeing how other people live and by learning about their customs and religions, you begin to reevaluate your life and learn things about yourself you never knew.
A few days after my talk, I ran into my high school guidance counselor and she told me that students had been coming into her office all week saying that they wish they could do what I had done, but that their parents would never permit it. This was very difficult for me.
Many parents feel strongly about the way their children’s lives should be led, and use influence in the form of a car and college tuition to make sure that things go the way they would like to see them go. Now There is no doubt that they do this out of love for their children, but at a certain point they must let go, and let their children live their own lives.
Most of you graduates are at a crucial point in your life. Many of you are now independent, maybe for the first time in your life. As a child, it was your parent’s job to instill morals in you and to teach you how to live. They did this by example, and taught you how to live as they lived. As you grew, they saw your potential, and didn’t want to see you make the same mistakes that they had made, so they may have maintained some of their control over you. But you are now a college graduate and are free to begin your life.
I graduated from high school as a C+ student. If I had gone straight to college I would have flunked out after the first semester. After traveling, however, I came to college with a tremendous thirst for knowledge that simply didn’t exist when I graduated from high school. I applied myself and became a serious pre-med student. My parents, who always thought I would become a doctor, were thrilled. It was all they could talk about for the past few years. Recently, however, I have realized that being a doctor would not make me happy. The long hours, the lack of freedom and concentrating every waking hour on medicine, while giving up hobbies, friends and family became less and less appealing to me. Also, I realized that the thing that got me up in the mornings and made my blood pump faster was technology, not medicine. As the decision not to go to medical school became clearer in my mind, I realized that one of the only reasons I was still considering going, was because it was what my parents wanted me to do. Breaking the news to my parents that I would probably never be a doctor was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but once I did, I felt a huge burden lifted from my shoulders.
I’m asking you to consciously choose your path. If you are sitting here today with a square piece of cardboard on your head, and you realize that the road you are heading down doesn’t take you to the future you would like to see, then take the first exit that will take you there. If this means going against the expectations you have had for yourself for as long as you can remember, or even the expectations of people who are close to you, then I hope you have the courage to do that. You deserve a life that will make you happy.
If you are sitting here today with a camera in your hands, a beaming smile on your face and a bag full of film over your shoulder, then I implore you: If your child comes to you for support on his or her decision to take that exit, then please keep in mind that this is their life and they must choose their own destiny. You may think they are making a big mistake, but it is their mistake that they must learn from.
Good luck, fellow graduates, as you cross the line between the safety of college and the brutal reality that is life. Make your life a conscious decision. Don’t confuse fun with happiness. And remember that in the real world, 12 hours per week is NOT considered full time.
Read the local newspaper writeup (Daily Sentinel)