Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Best Present Graduates Can Give to Themselves, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Katrien Vance

Dear Graduates,

Right now, as you graduate, you probably feel like a set entity, a “you” fully formed. You are. For now.
Be ready for everything to change. And the most important, most exciting thing that will change as you grow—if you let it—is your mind.

You will change your mind about little things: what music is good, what food is good, what’s funny.

You will change your mind about big things: what you want to do, how you want to do it, and with whom.
You’ll realize your parents were wrong about things you thought they had right, and right about many things you thought they had way wrong.

You will change your mind about things that right now seem set in stone: your political views, your ideas about human nature, your sense of where you draw the line.

It can be frightening to discover that you think something different than you thought you did. History is littered with people who have hung on to what they thought in the face of evidence that those thoughts didn’t work for them any longer—and it’s littered with the remains of the people who tried to offer a new way of thinking.
You have the choice to let each experience in and let it shape you, or to shut out the experiences that don’t match the person you already think yourself to be. You have the choice to judge those whose opinions don’t match yours, or let those opinions in and learn from them. You have the choice to pre-screen your potential books, friends, and ideas by comparing them to what you already think and seeing how well they match. But I guarantee, at some point, there will be that book you thought you would hate, that you finish only out of obligation, that you find yourself weeping over at the end, wondering “Why on earth is this affecting me?” You will meet that person who is the antithesis of what you believe, and suddenly realize he is a thinking, caring, admirable person. You will have an idea that rocks everything you’ve staked your life on. And what you do in those moments, whether you shut down or open up, will make all the difference.

There is a reason people call this time “commencement.” Go out there and commence changing. You might try on 40 different opinions for some things. If you don’t let yourself try those on, you’re stuck with the one you have right now. And just as I hope you’re not wearing only the same clothes or listening to only the same music in 20 years as you are now, I hope you’re not thinking only the same thoughts 20 years from now as you are now.

You’ll probably get a lot of wonderful gifts for graduation. I hope you’ll give yourself this one amazing gift: the gift of a mind that can change. Open it up and enjoy it for a long time to come.

--Katrien Vance teaches 7th and 8th graders at North Branch School in Afton


  1. Brilliant comments from a brilliant teacher!

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