Create the world you want for yourself: the college graduation speech I never had the chance to write

“What did we do it for? I mean, I don’t think we were ever really high schoolers. How many football games did you go to? How about parties? What about goofing off in class? Or passing stupid notes? Or laughing at a joke so hard you start crying? Is that high school to you? I don’t know. I was busy with homework, tests, and debate. If (homework, tests, and debate are) high school, how come you don’t have tons of friends? What if everything we went through will be the exact same in college?”

I never really got the opportunity to deliver a speech in my graduations, let alone write one. But I really wanted it back then. I mean, I love to write, and enumerating off your achievements in front of a whole crowd (though I am afraid of any crowd), with a dash of cheesy quotes from well-known figures, is a cool way to let people know that you’ve achieved something, touting it with that shiny medal hanging on your neck.

But ten years have passed since I graduated college. And the things that matter to me back then, the things that I thought were important, seemed to be trivial now, or worst could have lost me what life should I have now.

If the present me would write a speech for my 20-year old self, a skinny little young man wearing that oversized toga, what would I tell that would prepare him as he steps out from that jam-packed convention center? What should I tell him when even my present self doesn’t know what right words to write a speech? When even my present self has started to slowly resent the things I have done back in college to achieve the grades I need, the necessary sacrifices needed for me to reach the place I dreamed. When I was slowly trying to realize that surely those medals amount to nothing but displays? And that those medals brought me to this miserable, lonely place. There’s no turning back. It’s a lonely place out here, and I created this place in high school, all the way to college.

Better yet, I will write a speech for my younger self, before he will step into college, so that maybe, maybe, he could do something different this time.

I was trying to think of a quote that would fit into this speech. I raked my brains, trying to find something from the countless books I read, anything fitting that I could remember. But funnily enough, the passage on the beginning of this speech came not from a book but from a Netflix film, with a cheesy title, most of you would think. But it hit me hard.

The title is “Candy Jar” and it tells the story of two dueling high school debate champions who forged ahead with ambitious plans to get into colleges of their dreams.

I wish I had one, says one of the characters. I wish I had one.  He means a “life.” But what does life constitute in college? What‘s life after that? How do you define it? Does having top grades a definition of life in college? Does parties or skipping class with friends qualifies as a “life”? Top grades or parties. You could be in between, but for the most of us, for me back then, I had to pick one. You know what I chose. Those who picked the latter have a name for us: “dead kid.” I used to dismiss them as pathetic; after all, college is invented for you to learn, right? But the truth is that I resent them not because they were wrong, but because they were happy.

After the top grades, and the medals, and accolades, what now? Is that life worth it? Are you happy? You regret that you missed out a lot. You do not have friends. You wasted time, precious time, with your family. You became self-absorbed, shutting out the world around you.

Whatever path you chose, you have to own it, do not look back and resent the things that you did. After college, you never stop learning. That is much is obvious. I realize that this speech is for my present self. Hey, do not resent what you’ve done, everything that you’ve accomplished. You must be proud of it. Anything less is a betrayal to your college self, to your high school self.

Do not regret every night you stayed awake for reading those thick books, memorizing passages and dates and complicated theories. Typing non-stop in front of the computer. Wasting countless papers.

Do not regret the time you refused, repeatedly, to play ball with your older brother during that time when you moved to a new house.

Do not regret not joining your cousins and their friends when they were drinking booze one New Year’s night, because you do not drink and you have classes early the next day.

Do not regret the time you shut yourself in your room during your birthday party, intent on studying for exams the next day. Hey, you’ve got plenty of 1’s out of it, right?

You have had your reasons. That doesn’t mean you are inherently bad. After all, the world is a good and bad place. You have plans, your own story to write. The story that you wrote in college for yourself has helped you write your story today. A story that is now becoming more and more like the one that you want to read. And you have plenty of time to write the story that you wish you had back in college. You are a writer. Create your own characters, create the world you want for yourself, write a story you want to read.

To my 20-year old skinny self, congratulations, you made it! To my present self, let’s begin to write another chapter of our story. See you on the last page.

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