It’s graduation time again, which often leads me to ponder what I wish I’d known when I graduated so long ago. This month’s column is a letter to graduates sharing some thoughts that might help them on their journey through life.
Graduation is an exciting time for you, your loved ones, and the faculty and staff at NAU. We’re sorry to see you go, although we’re happy to see you start the next phase of your life. As you start down life’s twisty, bumpy road, here are a few thoughts that might help you get the most out of life.
Celebrate change. Life is a constantly evolving tapestry … or, maybe, a kaleidoscope. As you go through life, doors will open, doors will close, and you will pass from one to the next. Until you draw your last breath, there’s always something new and exciting awaiting you. This thought is nicely summarized in a quote often attributed to Seneca, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Cherish the memory of the past, but don’t be chained to it; embrace the changes that life offers.
See your possibilities, not your limitations. To quote Seneca, “… no man is constrained to live under constraint … on all sides lie many short and simple paths to freedom.” One of these paths is realizing that it is your opinions that make you happy or miserable. It is within your power to be happy, regardless of your circumstances. A key to leading a happy life it to find your purpose. Fully understanding your purpose isn’t easy, but the payoff is huge. As Viktor Frankl said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how.’” Find your “why” and there will always be a path to happiness.
Cherish your friends. Life is not meant to be lived alone. Choose your friends wisely, but have friends. Seneca tells us, “No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” The great thing about friends is that, when chosen and cultivated well, friends amplify joy and dampen sorrow. Remember, the best way to cultivate good friends is to be a good friend. Keep your college friends in your heart; as Seneca puts it, “A friend should be retained in the spirit; such a friend can never be absent.”
Be your own friend. In “Letters from a Stoic,” Seneca quotes Hecato, “I have been a friend to myself,” then goes on to say, “Such a person can never be alone … such a man is a friend to all mankind.” There are plenty of people who will put you down and try to hold you back. Don’t be one of them. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend. Lift yourself up when you’re down, don’t be too hard on yourself, give yourself wise counsel, forgive yourself. You, and all those whom you touch, will be better for it.
Don’t let your past define you. One of the great things about being human is that you always have the opportunity to grow. While your past certainly influences who you are, you have the ability to change, to improve, to grow. The past is the past; you can’t change it. As the Rubaiyat says, “The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on.” Dwelling on the past is rarely productive. The great Townes Van Zandt put it well, “It don’t pay to think too much on things you leave behind.” Learn from your past, but don’t be burdened by it.
Never stop learning, never stop seeking the truth. As you go through life, there will be people who try to sell you on their version of the truth, but nobody has a monopoly on truth. Constantly seek knowledge, discover the truth for yourself, find your own path. You are unique. You can learn from others, but don’t try to live another’s life. Live your own.
Live well. You have the seeds of greatness inside you. Hopefully your time at NAU nurtured those seeds, but that’s not enough. You need to cultivate your own greatness. One final quote from Seneca, “It is with life as it is with a play, it matters not how long the action is spun out, but how good the acting is.” Life is short, live it well.
Craig Van Slyke
The W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University is home to over 3,000 undergraduate and Master’s students. The College’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the success of its students and the economic development of the region. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: http://www.franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.