If you were asked to deliver the high school commencement address what would you say to those completing this big milestone event in their lives? I’ve sat through a few graduation exercises for children, family members, even now a grandchild and I honestly confess I can’t remember anything that was said, most particularly my own graduation 49 years ago. So while I was highly flattered to be asked to give the commencement address for The Oakwood School in Greenville, I pondered what to say to these young men and women. Even if I was able to impart to them the wisdom of the ages what might possibly stick with them, even if for a few days?
I asked others for their suggestions. One said to tell them to remember their mother’s advice whenever leaving home: “remember who you are.” Another suggested they acknowledge their God-given gifts and be thankful. One wanted to remind them to thank their parents. A further suggestion was to recognize that another’s gain isn’t your loss. Still another said these graduates should appreciate the advantages they have been afforded thus far in their lives.
Some of them will be going on to college, some into military service, while others may be entering the workforce. I dare say most all have differing definitions of what a successful life would look like, but I strongly suspect one common denominator is all long for happiness, so that theme seemed a good place to go with a message. After much searching I rediscovered the rules for happiness written by the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. They are short, easy to remember and, while they might not be all encompassing, are pretty significant.
Kant said the first element to a happy life was having something to do. Productive people are happier people than those who have time to manufacture problems and complaints. We need a reason to get up each morning, a purpose for the day. Kant next suggests we need someone to love. Relationships are essential, especially those that provide nurture, support and care. Having someone to love and who, in turn, loves us back, helps provide a state of wellbeing. Finally, Kant said, we need something to hope for. It might be as small as a hot meal and a comfortable bed at the end of the day or as lofty as world peace, but hoping for something helps raise our sights beyond the moment and even beyond ourselves.
These young people are about to step out into the world; a world full of uncertainty and doubt. There are some suggesting these graduates might not attain the same standard of living as their parents have achieved, but there have always been problems, even in the best of times and a negative word at this moment is neither appreciated nor helpful.
Something to do, someone to love and something to hope for. A solid foundation on which graduates can begin building a life of happiness. They are our future, our hope, and we all have a role to play in this development. Our responsibility is to provide encouragement whenever possible, opportunity whenever available, help whenever appropriate and advice whenever sought. We wish them success and happiness.