This past Saturday many young women walked across the stage I’ve walked across, and they received the piece of paper that is so much more than that–it’s the results of minutes and hours and days and years of listening and learning and writing and critiquing and speaking and sharing and thinking and challenging themselves to do more, do better, be stronger, think harder, and take one step more towards their goal.
And now. They’ve taken one very huge step.
They are college graduates.
One of those young women is my friend whom I had the privilege of sitting with about a month ago. As we sat in the rocking chairs facing the green of the golf course on my visit “home” for Alumnae Weekend, I had the honor of hearing about her journey. Some about where she’s been and more about where she hopes to go. What she hopes to do. I heard her decisions and her questions in her stories and thoughts, and let me tell you this–
We are in good hands.
If we don’t mess this up.
This beautiful soul has, as so many of us have, found out a lot about herself during her years at Wesleyan. Some surprising, some not so much. She has gained confidence in her abilities and her voice, as her professors and classmates challenged her to come up with ideas, defend her opinions, and put together words and thoughts in a way that others could learn from her. And now–
Now she leaves this nest, this safe place, this place of incubation and growing. It is time, and she is ready.
I need to ask a favor.
For years, we have been telling this young woman and all the young people her age to “grow up.” We’ve sighed when they’ve been silly, calling them out to “do better, be more mature, be responsible.”
And now that they are on their way to do this, it is our very important job not to muck it up for them. It is up to us not to discourage them. And it happens everyday, doesn’t it? People groan about the millennials. I’ve heard comments: “Oh look at them, they think they are grown. Who do they think they are?” Or this: “Ha. Did you hear the ideas they’ve come up with to fix this or that? Right. Like some young upstart can fix this. It’s been a mess for years. Our generation tried, and we couldn’t do a thing about it. What makes them think they can?”
This is WRONG in every sense of the word. Because, in the words of the Grinder, “But what if they can?”
We’ve told them to grow up. They’ve been watching us for years to see what THAT looks like. Now that they’ve reached this pinnacle, this landmark of “being grown,” how can we be anything but positive and encouraging?
We need their dreams and their hearts. They are fragile right now. Fragile, strong, and prepared. Like a baby bird who is a baby no more and whose wings are ready to take flight. Instead of letting our words and eye rolls and patronizing tones take them down like a rock from a sling shot, let’s cheer them on. Just as we did the little blue birds who finally take flight as spring turns into summer and the leaves sway in the breeze and the frogs sing their evening songs. Let’s let them be who they have been becoming the past four or more years, and let’s watch them and listen to them and treat them with the same respect and love that we show those little birds.
And to my little birds who have flown the nest. It and all of your sisters will always be there for you. Years from now, when you most need to feel the safety of the nest, they will take you under their wings and you will be held tightly in their safe embrace, protected, if only for a moment, from life’s greatest storms. You are going to do small things greatly and great things well. Your dreams you have right now might not come to fruition, but never stop dreaming. Never forget the hope you had as you packed up your things to move on to the next part of your journey. Oh I know, there was trepidation too. I remember that. I hate to tell you this, but it never completely goes away. There’s the next step and the next step and the one after that. Over twenty-five years since I left the nest, and at times I still feel the uncertainty of what to do next. But hold on to the woman you have become. She and all the encouragement and advice you have gotten and all of the things you have learned both in the classroom and outside of it will guide you if you will let it. Hold on to your dreams and keep growing.
Because that never stops either. The growing and changing. You are the beautiful butterfly and metamorphosizing caterpillar all at the same time. Ever-changing.
And, to be honest, that’s been surprising and pretty cool too.
Here’s to our new graduates. May we have the wisdom to listen and to encourage them and give them space to try out all the things without fear of what failure would look like. And may they have the energy and resources and support to envision, create, attempt, dream, and change this world for the better.
Because I’ve met them. And I know they can.
Love and pomp and circumstance to all.