Trying to sum up what I’ve learned in college in 500 words or less seems ridiculous. How can I condense the last few years of my life down to some profound truth that other soon-to-be-alumni will read and think, “Yes, he gets it”?
I suppose that leads to the first lesson I’ve learned from college: trying to please other people is exhausting and, in the end, probably not worth it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do good deeds or be a positive force in the lives of friends and family. What it does mean is that we’re all responsible for our own happiness. Every morning when you wake up, there’s a conscious decision to go into the day with a positive or negative attitude. Realizing that you’re in charge of your own happiness is half the battle. The other half is helping the people you spend time with come to the same realization. Work with your friends to make sure you’re all doing your best to be happy and helping each other when you’re down.
Second: get to know yourself. Know what you like, what makes you tick, inspires you, scares you, upsets you, calms you down, makes you laugh. Take yourself out for something fun, just the one of you. Get lost in a museum or go see a movie alone. Both of those activities are a lot less sad than they sound. If you don’t know yourself, you’ll never be able to understand others.
Third: like yourself. There aren’t a lot of things to be sure of, but this much I know — you’re stuck with yourself. Not even “’till death do us part” applies here (I have prepared for exactly that by planning to be buried in a gray suit to match my hair, my favorite rainbow tie and a nice bamboo coffin). If you don’t like something about yourself, be confident in your ability to grow and evolve. If you like everything about yourself, take it down a notch. There is such a thing as too much self-confidence.
Fourth: if you’re in a situation you don’t like, do something about it. There’s something to be said about sticking out something you find unpleasant — there’s also something to be said about making a change if you’re unhappy. Whether it’s a professional commitment or personal relationship — I even seriously considered leaving NYU at one point — I know I’m not going to be my best if I’m miserable.
Fifth: dream big, but enjoy small. Dream of changing the world, curing cancer, reforming the criminal justice system, eliminating prejudice, ending world hunger. Enjoy grabbing coffee with a friend, dancing in your room, going on a first date, waking up at noon, debating which season of “30 Rock” is the funniest (the fifth). Chances are, everything in the first category won’t happen, so don’t attach your well-being to them. If that sounds bleak, just remember that everything in the second category happens each day. Don’t take them for granted. Tomorrow’s another day, until it isn’t.
Graduate, go out and find your best self. It’s out there, as long as you put in the effort to find it.