My first-ever graduation speech

My seniors are leaving me. Graduation is five days away. If I had one bit of advice to give them it would be this—be happy.

There’s a difference between happiness and joy. Joy comes from the Lord. That is something He gives, something we can accept but not make happen. I hope my blogs are candles or lanterns in the night, not blinding, in-your-face beacons.

So rather than preach joy, I’ll talk about happiness.

I think God wants us to be happy. I talk a lot about serendipity in this blog, hence its name. But serendipity is a fortunate discovery. I believe God puts circumstances, things, and people in our paths to give us opportunities for happiness. I don’t believe in coincidences.

Don’t we do little things for our children, just to see them smile? Just for the sake of them being happy? I think God does the same for us.

As my seniors toss their tassels and begin a new life, I hope they’ll make the RIGHT choices that will lead them to happiness.

First, I hope they’ll pursue their heart’s desire. So often we settle for second best. Why? The reasons go on forever. Maybe we lack the faith to believe that we’ll ever get what we really want, so we take the first available offer.

I’ve known kids to drop out of school to hold down a full-time job to make truck payments and then have to work so much they have no time to enjoy their truck. Or they wreck it. Or the company reposes it. If only they had waited, they could have had dodged the hassles and basked in the happiness of owning something that was theirs–not the bank’s.

I’ve known students who have had a passion for a specific career only to have a relative persuade them to go down a different path. The career may pay off in the long run with a nice pay check, but money can’t buy happiness. How would you like to work 30 years at a job you hate?

I believe the old saying—find a job that you love to do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

I know students who will choose a career based on how quickly they can finish schooling. Then they spend the rest of their lives regretting their decision. They may never use their college education, or they may spend another four years finally pursing what they wanted to do in the first place.

I know students who are so desperate to get out of their current living arrangements that they’ll move away, get married, join the military, take a full-time job—just to escape. What they’re searching for is happiness. What they find is regret.

There’s nothing wrong with any of the above decisions. But my point is, I hope my seniors consider their happiness just as seriously as they have considered any other major decision in their lives.

When I was a rookie teacher, all I cared about was being the best teacher I could be. Now that I’m older, I realize there are days when no one can beat me. I am the best. Then there are days, when I really stink. It all averages out. But it’s not about me. What matters is my students. I really care what happens to them.

Some of my students have made decisions in their life that have limited their choices, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t be happy.

God gives second chances.

People should never live their lives wondering what could have been, “only if.” When we stumble upon an second-chance opportunity for happiness, we should consider it a gift. But second-chance opportunities aren’t that easy to come by. It’s much easier to make wise decisions from the start.

Again, if I could give any advice to my grads, it would be this—take the risk, overcome the obstacle, put in the time, hold tightly to your faith. Do whatever it takes, but be happy.

Never settle for anything less.

Can I get there from here?

This past week one of my sweet little newspaper babies came to me for advice. With graduation just a few months away, she was overwhelmed with the thought of stepping into the world on her own. Bless her heart. I understand what she’s feeling. I just can’t fix it.

When I graduated, I had no idea of what it was like to be on my own. I tried to do what everyone else wanted me to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know where to find it or how to get it. I guess you could say I was like a pinball in a machine, propelled into life, bumping from here to there until I found myself where I am now, slightly bruised but a whole lot bolder.

My little newspaper kiddo asked me, “What if I make the wrong decision? What if I do the wrong thing?”

I wanted to say, “Brace yourself. It’s going to happen.” But I didn’t want to make her cry.

The truth is life is full of uncertainty, but for those who believe, life is all about hope. Is it possible that every road we take leads us where we’re supposed to be, even if we get off on the wrong exit on the interstate of life?

Old timers say, “You can’t get there from here.”  I say, “Why not?”

Last summer when I wrote my first manuscript, I jumped in blindly, never considering how many mistakes I would make. It’s taken a while to fix them, but step by step I’ve made progress.

For months I’ve stayed up late, polishing my work, submitting it to my critique group, and revising. It’s amazing how I’ve managed to go to work each day on so little sleep. But the journey’s been worth the effort. I’ve learned so much. I’m a better writer, a more confident writer.

A couple of days ago I submitted my entry to the 2011 ACFW Genesis Contest. There was a moment before I hit “send” when I wondered, “What if I pour everything into my story and the judges hate it?”  

It’s scary, being vulnerable, putting your heart on the line.

I wish I could tell my newspaper student that every step she takes will take her exactly where she wants to go—or that she’ll know without a doubt what she should do. But I’d be lying if I did.

Our troubles may be difficult and even painful, but every bump in the road can be to our benefit—if we put our trust in God. He said so (Romans 8:28). So even if we mess up, God can make it work for our own good. No matter what.

In other words, living life is like writing our own book. God’s critiques show us the revisions we need to make.

Just as young grads are afraid to take their first steps into the world, we older folks sometimes fear that we’ve traveled so far away from our dreams we’ll never get find them again. In other words, we wonder “can we get there from here?”

Sometimes what we want seems impossible because we can’t figure out a way to make it happen. But just because we can’t figure out a way for it to happen doesn’t mean that it won’t.

So, my frightened student (and anyone else who may sharing these fears), as you set forth into the great unknown, know that no matter what decisions you make (or have made), God can take all situations and make them turn out for your good. We have to work for an attitude that accepts that everything we go through makes us stronger, better.

The alternative attitude leads to a life dominated by fear and regret.

Choose wisely to avoid as many heartaches as possible, but ultimately, if you believe, you’ll get where you’re supposed to be—no matter what.