I wish I could show you,
When you are lonely or in darkness
The Astonishing Light
Of your own Being!
La Grande Class of ’93 High School Graduation Address – June 1993
I feel honored to be here today and would like to thank everyone who made it possible: the Class of ’93, parents, teachers, and especially Katie Kalemba. Thank you for this opportunity.
My mom, Rae Case, was born in 1914 in a log cabin in Range, Oregon, which I don’t think exists anymore. She grew up on a cattle and horse ranch on Case Ridge, close to Dale. She went to school in Ukiah as a kid and then Weston. So even though I don’t live here, I feel like I have roots in this part of the country. Her stories when I was growing up were filled with the majesty of the country and the realness of the people. I’d actually like to thank my mom today too. Her pioneer spirit and earthy pragmatism have helped me be here with you today.
We live in a world that is filled with paradox, that is very often beyond understanding. A world where grain silos are full in some countries, and yet in those same countries, people are starving… starving not only for something to eat, but starving for respect and kindness too. A world where some children are pampered and given everything they could ever dream of, the love of their families, material possessions, and unlimited opportunities. Yet other children are deprived of the humblest affections and comforts and deprived of the simplest opportunities. A world where decisions are made in the name of business—like profit at any cost—decisions that are harmful to our planet, our health, our spiritual well-being, and our future. The kind of decisions that the very same person wouldn’t even consider implementing in their private life.
The longer I live, and the more I investigate life, the more I realize that paradox has been with us for as long as there has been life. In a world full of paradox, where contradictory things exist at the same time, like good and evil, peace and war, love and hate, success and failure, abundance and poverty, a world of extremes, I have been pondering what words I can offer the class of 1993, to inspire you to live the richest life possible. And in twenty minutes too! I am used to teaching seminars that last several days, and that never feels like enough time. I hope that didn’t get you worried!
What better place to start than with the motto the Class of 1993 has chosen for themselves? “This above all, to thine own self be true.”
Your chosen motto is a powerful and courageous credo to take with you when entering into this world of great paradox, especially when you know what your “truth” is and you have the strength and desire to “be” it. Most of us don’t have a clue about how to be true to ourselves. That’s why there are so many unhappy people! Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Who am I?” and driven yourself a little crazy? In order to be true to yourself, there are some things you must “do first” to put your credo into practice.
There are five essentials.
1. In order to know yourself and be true to yourself, you must have a very healthy relationship with
the truth. Your truth and other people’s truths too. You must want to know what the truth is! Most of us are afraid to know, so afraid that what we do won’t be approved of by those we care about, or that if we really be ourselves, we will be disapproved of, perhaps even lose those we care most about. When was the last time you asked someone you care about for feedback about something you did that didn’t work, really wanting to hear their comments? If we aren’t asking, that says we aren’t open to the truth.
Our openness to embracing the truth is our greatest strength. Let me ask you two questions, “How much of your time do you spend editing your thoughts and what you are going to say next?” and “Why do you do it?”
We have all sorts of great reasons, the essential one is, we are afraid our truth will create consequences we don’t want. By withholding our truth from ourselves and others, we create our own anonymity! When we learn to express our feelings, thoughts, and wants, we are free to discover and share our real self.
2. You must decide what kind of person you want to become, a vision or description of your ideal self. We live in a goal-oriented society, which is good. And yet most, if not all, the goals are about what we will do—education, work, family, financial status, etc.—and what we will have—house, car, clothing, health in- surance. Very seldom do you hear a person declaring a goal to be honest, courageous, kind, adventuresome, or perhaps to live with integrity. The way our culture works is, you do what you can to have the things that you want so you can be the kind of person you want to be. Do, have, be. I would rather live in a culture where you be yourself and have the experience you want, so that you can do what is most important for you to do.
I love T-shirt art, and one of my favorites is
To do is to be —Socrates
To be is to do —Plato
Do be do be do —Sinatra
What kind of a person do you want to become?
3. You must determine what kind of a legacy you want to leave and how you want to be remembered. You may be saying to yourself, “Give me a break! I am just getting out of high school. How am I supposed to know how I want to be remembered? That’s too far off!” Please listen…we live in a society that is addicted to short-term gains, to new and improved, and we are suffering from it deeply. What is every addiction? A desire for a quick change of feeling or experience without any real invest- ment on our part. It comes from a substance or behavior that over time will control us. If each of us took a longer-term approach, investing in our lives by thinking about what we want our lives to stand for, what we want to contribute and leave behind, we would see positive changes in our society fast.
4. In order to be true to yourself, you must do what is most important for you to do. You have got to take action! Do something, anything, that starts the ball rolling. It took me a long time to learn that the only life I could live was my own, and a lot of people were happy when I figured it out too. Nobody can do life for us. You are the only person you can change, and the results we create are through our own action, nobody else’s. I wish someone had told me, simply and clearly, that I could build my self-respect and self-esteem by doing my very best, doing exactly what I said I would do, and acknowledging myself and others for our efforts.
How will you know if it is the most important thing for you to do? By listening to your heart, your inner voice, and by valuing your gifts and talents. Sometimes we make our lives very difficult by thinking that if it’s not hard, it’s not worthwhile. Our biggest gifts usually are easy for us. They may take work to master, but they feel natural. Please turn toward your gifts, not away.
5. To thine own self be true. You must accept that you are an important part of the human race, the human family. So often I hear people of all ages, sizes, and colors say, “There are so many of us, what difference do I make?”
It’s because there are so many of us that it is vitally important that each of us knows that we are important and inside the human family. We are part of what makes up the “common good,” the very structure and quality of our world.
This may sound strange and even comical, at the same time it was very painful. As a child, I thought I came from another planet! Oh yes, I thought I was so different that I had to be from another solar system! And how was I different? I knew deep in my heart when people weren’t being kind or honest. With the eyes and innocence of our youth, I think we all knew that and then one day we said, “Why try to change it? That’s just the way it is.”
Yes, we are all different with unique talents and gifts, and at the same time, we are human. It’s when we exclude ourselves that we start playing by rules that may be harmful to the whole. What if it is your truth your family is waiting for to be more whole? What if it is your truth your school is waiting for to be an even better school? What if it is your truth your town is waiting for to become an even better town? What if it is your truth the world is waiting for to become a better world? To thine own self be true does not mean exclusion, it means being your whole self while being part of what is going on! A whole self respecting and nurturing other whole selves.
With these five essentials as your guides, being true to yourself will be a natural and expansive process.
- Having a very healthy relationship with the truth
- Deciding what kind of person you want to become, a vision of your ideal self
- Determining what kind of a legacy you want to leave and how you want to be remembered
- Doing what is most important for you to do
- Accepting that you are an important part of the human race, the human family
Are there setbacks in life? You bet—life is lumpy! How we deal with the lumps is a sign of our character, our best self. Life is glorious too. We have balance in our lives when we embrace both the highs and the lows, feeling our pain and our joy fully.
Class of 1993, here is my closing question to you, “Are you reaching for a TV remote, a computer game, your headphones, or are you reaching for the stars?”
Your family, town, country, and world are in need of you. We need you to be committed to being your true self and using your gifts and talents. It’s time.
1. Take a moment to reflect on your beliefs about telling the truth, the whole truth—especially the beliefs that stop you from telling the truth. Example: the truth hurts.
2. How much time do you spend editing your thoughts and what you are going to say next? What is the impact?
3. Evaluate yourself on the five essentials of being true to yourself and choose at least one new behavior for each that will strengthen your self-awareness.
With love and gratitude,