I should be graduating today.
I should put putting on my cap and gown, and stroking on an extra layer of mascara.
I should be popping champagne…more than one bottle.
Instead, I’m sitting on my couch, far from a ceremony, and even farther away from the people I most want to celebrate with.
This is the reality of most 2020 graduates, regardless of level of academic achievement.
That stack in the picture. It’s not just for show. That right there is just 16 weeks worth of work.
I did 10X that in the three years I was completing my Master’s degree.
If you can imagine for a minute, what ten times that would look like.
It wouldn’t just reach my ceiling, but it would work it’s way well into the space of the second floor.
It’s all stored away in various parts of my overworked brain.
The binder on the very bottom…that’s all of my independent research.
To those of you mourning the loss of celebrating graduation, stripped of glass clinking these monumental moments…I feel you.
I am you.
These moments are not like birthdays or holidays, guaranteed to come around again next year assuming you are in good health and have no massive unforeseen accident.
These are once in a lifetime moments.
These do not come around by virtue of existing.
But by way of a little bit of privilege and a lot of really hard work.
These are the big moments in life.
And they deserve to be celebrated.
But for a lot of us, these moments have been lost in the shuffle of a world-wide crisis.
As of today, I have achieved the highest level of formal education in my family. Not just my living family, but as far back as my family line can be tracked.
And I can tell you, when I found out I couldn’t celebrate with my family or friends, I couldn’t travel somewhere fun with a stunning sight and a breath of fresh air, I felt hugely stripped of celebrating one of the biggest moments in my life.
I should be kissing my mom.
I should be hugging my dad.
I should be with my grandparents, sneaking chicken legs from my grandpas barbecue and trying to talk my grandmother into partaking a second glass of wine.
I should be popping bottles of champagne with my best friends, talking about all the vivid dreams we have of making the world a better place.
I should be celebrating these accomplishments, this incredibly hard work I’ve done.
And I should be celebrating my people for all the ways in which they too made this possible.
Your accomplishments are a big accomplishment for them too.
I pursued an education to honor myself. My abilities. My curiosities. My potential. Because investing in knowledge and personal growth is the highest form of self love.
I pursued an education to honor my family, to honor the opportunities that were created for me by the people who came before me… the ones who did not have the same opportunities that they built for me. To thank them for the footholds they created for my advancement.
I pursued my education to honor you because believe it or not, I love you deeply. And I want to use my education to create systems that give you a better quality of life as a demonstration of that love for you. Despite whatever faith we have lost in those around us, I am determined to use my knowledge to love you and fight for you, to be a trustworthy and truthful leader, to honor your humanity fully.
Most importantly, I pursued an education to honor my God. I believe that God works through people, and God’s work does not go where I am unwilling to tread. Gifted with a curious mind and a loving soul, I believe God gave me a heart of stewardship for knowledge and for people. It’s my job to honor what God has made me steward of, to speak truthfully, to love you like my God does, and to use my knowledge to fight for you.
Despite all of this hard work and good intention, it’s a weird time to be graduating.
Intellect, research, science, and reason have become a matter of opinion.
Dominant narrative belongs to the highest bidder.
News looks a lot more like sensationalized television.
We are so busy fighting each other over semantics and principle, that we have lost sight of the fights which are more imminent and more worthy.
This causes confusion.
It causes distrust.
It causes people to doubt those like me and those like you, whose knowledge stacks stories high.
What is our agenda?
What is our bias?
Are we just protecting our own interests?
Do we even know what we are talking about?
The music is not playing and there is no party to be had, all our friends are stuck inside and we are looking at a world full of confusion and doubt and distrust.
In whether our leaders are capable or care about our well-being.
Hell, we don’t even trust each other.
I can tell you as I came towards the end of my education, I looked at my stacking debt and the diminishing jobs and the drain-circling doubt of our global society.
I thought to myself, “why?”
Why would I work so hard to become smart, only to enter a world that will doubt everything that comes out of my mouth no matter how hard I worked or how much I studied?
Why rack up the debt?
We are currently walking into the worst employment rate our country has seen since the great depression with fresh hope, steaming debt, and nowhere to go as millions more people claim unemployment each weak.
Why work so hard? Why go through years of late nights and early mornings and a full time job + full time school at the cost of my social life, my savings account, my sleep, a balanced diet, or occasionally my sanity?
Damn it. There should be a bottle of champagne for every comma in the last question, and yet there isn’t even champagne at the end of my Masters degree.
What, truly, in the ever-loving hell?
And then I thought to myself, I now know so much, and by knowing so much I also know how little I know. What does it mean to this complicated world to know all the things I do, and all the things I don’t?
You’d need a drink just to go through the dialogue I was having in my own head.
And then I heard two voices.
The first was that of my grandfather reminding me that there are only two things the world cannot take from you – faith and knowledge.
The second I imagine is that of God, reminding me that I was not privileged with knowledge to be praised for my work.
I was privileged with knowledge, because there is work to be done.
Those of us with knowledge must be trusted to do the hard work ahead of us.
I was made a steward of knowledge so I can be capable doing hard things from a place of reason and perspective.
So I can do it from a place of love for my neighbor.
So that I can do it humbly and quite possibly without any recognition.
Sitting on the couch due to a world-wide crisis when I should be celebrating…it’s the most vivid reminder of why I went to school in the first place.
Not for praise or recognition.
But to do urgent work from a place of love and higher understanding.
To address the many crisis’ that exist for humans on any given day.
What we are up against – my God what an adrenaline rush. This collective aimlessness gives me more excitement than I can even convey in a sentence. There is so much room for change. There is so much room for cultural growth. There is so much room for good. There is so much room for God to do God’s work.
Now, more than ever we need leaders and scholars who guide with intellect and heart.
The climate we are graduating in is proof that now, the world more than ever needs smart people…in all the different ways people can be smart.
Book smart. People smart. Street smart. Smart that comes from education and smart that comes from experience.
The world needs dynamically intelligent people.
This time of global confusion and impacted systems is proof that the work will be hard.
It’s proof that it’s time to put what you have learned to good use.
For your neighbors and for your global community.
We didn’t go to school for the praise, even though I’ll admit it feels good.
We went to school because the world needs us to be smarter than the massive problems we face.
More than that, we need to be acutely capable of working with others and we need to be keen enough to manage our emotions while doing so.
This requires that we exercise both our mind and heart in tandem.
I know how ominous the world can feel. I feel it too.
But there is no greater “congratulations” than to be so desperately needed by an entire generation of people.
Your accomplishments matter. You matter. Even if right now there can be no banners and the bubbly has not yet been popped.
I know missing the celebrations sucks.
Trust me, I really do.
But I also know that among the greatest gifts God gave me was the power of knowledge.
What an incredible gift we have all been trusted with.
The world needs you, now more than ever.
I am so sorry the party was put on hold, but my God I can’t wait to see what you do with that stunning mind.
Today my dear graduate, I raise my glass to you (because in my house, we are still poppin’ bubbly and letting it freely flow.)
Wherever you are in your academic career, you worked hard and accomplished something so few ever have. This is truly remarkable. I hope despite the interruption, you find a way to celebrate.
YOU SO DESERVE IT.
All my love,