This is a letter, an antiquated means of communication with which I suspect you are not very familiar. Thirty-five years ago, I used to write love letters to my now wife as I was courting her (another antiquated notion). She still has them, and they somehow continue to resonate in a way that, sadly, the truncated text messages you share with the people you love never will, and that’s if they survive at all. It makes me sad to think you will probably never write nor receive a real love letter other than the treacle written by proxy on some greeting card.
So, as you stand on the precipice of graduation, I want to write you a love letter – of sorts — for like most teachers and despite any appearances to the contrary, I truly do love all of my students, past and present. If I didn’t love my students, I could not love teaching as I do. I sincerely hope I wore my love for teaching, for literature, and for you “upon my sleeve” as Shakespeare wrote. And, although you are about finish your high school careers, like all of my former students, which now number around four thousand, none of you will ever graduate from the chambers of my heart. Your faces will change, and in the future, I may struggle to put your names with them, but I will never forget nor take for granted the time we spent together and the many ways you helped me to make sense of myself and the world and how you have managed to keep my faith in young people and hope for a better future perpetually alive.
As I typically do at this time of year, I feel I need more time with you. I do not feel as if I have passed on enough of what I believe you will need to know as you begin your slow detachment from the safe confines of family, high school, and hometown. I’m not even sure I know what you need to know to navigate successfully the waters of this 21st century. The world you’re entering at eighteen is very different from the one I stumbled into forty years ago at your age, not better or worse, just different, but, I believe, many of the lessons I attempted to share with you this year are timeless and of considerable value.
Therefore, before you move on, I’d like to reiterate a few of those lessons mostly gleaned from literature and urge you to carry them with you into your adulthood: 1) In life, we mostly get the monsters we deserve – the vast majority of the problems and stresses we face are of our own creation; 2) Life’s challenges are constant; therefore, when you overcome one, take time to luxuriate in it, then move on, not resting too long on your laurels, for the next challenge is already in queue; 3) There’s no one way or right way to forge a life. Whichever path you decide to take (even if it’s a ride on the people mover), be sure it is one of your own conscious selection or, better yet, forging, then live the hell out of it; 4) Your body belongs solely to you; no one has a right to impose their will upon it without your carefully considered, full, and clearly given consent; this is also true of your mind. Cherish them both and guard them well. 5) It’s a big world full of fascinating places and people; go see it for yourself; 6) The religious, political, racial, nationalistic, and economic walls of exclusion, often built by well-intentioned people, must be torn down with the velvet sledgehammer of tolerance; 7) Blind faith in anything or anyone is lazy, ignorant, and dangerous; reasoned faith is beautiful and unshakable; 8) Make an effort to figure out what YOU believe, what YOU value, where YOU stand, and once you figure them out, don’t be afraid to change if YOU feel you must; 9) Love (verb form/action word) music, knowledge, sports, cooking, whatever, etc. Most importantly, love people in their infinite variety, but not just the ones who are easy to love; 10) Do your best to be good, but if you can’t be good, don’t get caught.
The lessons I’d like you to draw from the writing and research we conducted are just as valuable: 1) There’s no such thing as a final draft; there just comes a day when you have to turn it in. Our lives are like that as well; we are all works-in-progress until our last day. If you’re not a work-in-progress, it’s not because you’re perfect; it’s because you’re already dead; 2) Stay humble; there will always be people who know more than you and write better than you. Don’t be envious in response to these folks; learn from them. Stand on their shoulders to reach new heights of knowledge. 3) Writing/research, like life, is a process; it requires the completion of stages in their correct order over time. There are no shortcuts that will allow you to produce a work/life of equal worth to one that remains true to the process of writing/researching/living.
If you find any of this hokey, platitudinous, or insincere, then I have failed you. If you find any of this valuable, take it as my gift to you.
Always with gratitude and love,
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