On my daughter's graduation day, I'm awestruck at the woman she's become.
To My Amazing Daughter,
Your senior year has been 12 months of high emotion, nostalgia and surreal reflection. You have just turned 18 years old -- an adult in the eyes of the world -- and in a few short days, you'll be graduating from high school.
It's a very strange experience standing here, observing you these last few weeks. You're putting on prom dresses and heels. We're picking out college courses. You're considering moving in with a friend.
You're nervous and excited... and so am I.
I suppose I could say something trite like, "Oh wow, you're so grown up," but that hardly does you justice.
In truth, I am utterly awestruck at the woman you have become. You are so smart. You're centered. You know what you want, and are willing to follow your head and heart to get it. You refuse to settle. You take no prisoners. You're full of knowledge, talent, pride, fun, focus, and ridiculous shenanigans that always make me double over with laughter.
You're a beautiful person, inside and out.
Forgive your Old Man, for as I write this I find myself tearing up -- memories flooding my mind. It wasn't that long ago that I was rubbing your little back as you slept -- the living embodiment of Strong Exquisiteness asleep on my chest on the couch.
I close my eyes and I see the little girl in pigtails, excited for her first trip to Disneyland.
I see the kindergartner headed in for her first day of school -- scared, but bravely marching in with an inquisitive smile. I can't help but think about all the book reports we wrote, and the tests and quizzes for which we studied.
I can hear you singing in front of a crowd for the first time -- me in the back of the room with silent tears of pride streaming down my cheeks. And if I close my eyes, I can still feel you on my shoulders, riding high as we strolled through Las Vegas because your legs were too tired to continue the trek.
I smile as I reflect on every game of Speed we've played, the books and stories I've read to you at bedtime, the Harry Potter movie marathons we've watched, the Nerf gun wars we've fought, the musicals and stage productions we performed in together, the days of teaching you to drive, and the sarcasm-infused discussions we've had -- the bulk of which still make me smirk with deep appreciation for your dry wit, incredible sense of humor and sublime comedic timing.
I've watched over you for your entire life -- hopefully protecting you without stifling you. I still watch, just from a slight distance so you can grow, and what I see makes me beam.
You've faced so many challenges head-on. Being a teenager in this crazy world has never been more difficult. You've risen up against injustice and bullying, and have navigated personal and societal pressures. Despite it all, you've persevered. You've faced adversity and triumphed, and the choices you've made are remarkable. You're growing. You're making mistakes.
You're applying what you know and what you've learned, and you've stayed willing to keep learning -- which by itself is an amazing feat at any age.
Your path ahead is one of promise, principle, and character, and as you gather yourself for what I'm sure will be an amazing journey, please allow me to pass on a few thoughts -- advice, as it were.
As you read these reflections, I implore you to remember that these are things I have either learned directly, or I'm still learning. I might be 28 years your senior, Love, but I'm still figuring out how life works. We all are; anyone who tells you differently is selling something.
1. The world is unfair.
In your travels, you will come in contact with many people. Some will do the right thing, others will only do what benefits them, and it might have an impact on you and your life. But here's the thing: You can't make anyone do what is your version of good or right; you can only control how you act or react to what's presented to you.
Does it suck? Yes... and that's unfortunately a part of life.
2. The decisions are always yours.
We are always pressured by outside influences, and never has it become more apparent than this year. The nagging questions you've heard from everyone: "What are you going to do after high school? What will you study in college?" Great questions, to be sure ... but I would ask you to think of them as guiding questions.
No matter what you choose or decide, you always have the option to change your mind. Just stay true to your heart and the rest will fall into place.
3. You are worthy of what you want.
Your life will take you many places, and the people around you will offer many differing thoughts and opinions. No matter what they say, you are worthy of what you want from this life. You require no permission, no validation, and no allowance for what you want.
If you think it and you want it, you can get it. Never allow anyone to tell you otherwise.
4. Do your best not to judge others.
You will never truly know what is going on in someone else's life. When you see or experience someone who is doing something differently than you, take pause before you offer your thoughts and opinions, or hand down judgment. In truth, we are all doing the very best we can based on where we have been and where we are going in this life.
Sometimes others' "best" isn't very good for us, but it's all they have. If their path doesn't align with yours, you don't have to judge them for it. Recognize that people are different, and move on without deciding they were wrong. Them being "wrong" is irrelevant; they were just wrong for you.
5. Always practice kindness.
It takes so little to effect change, both for yourself and others. Take a moment to connect with people around you in little ways. A smile to a stranger while walking down the street or a comment of "Love your hair!" to a cashier at the local coffee shop can sometimes make all the difference in ways you might never know.
Give all you can without the promise of reciprocation, for that is the key to long-term happiness with one's self.
6. Stand up for yourself and your truth.
Your convictions and beliefs matter. Never allow anyone -- including me -- to dictate your thoughts or the things in which you believe. If you believe something, always listen to opposing viewpoints (as you might learn things of which you weren't aware), but you choose whether or not to change/sway your opinions and ideas.
Bottom line: Speak your truth, and let go of the outcome, as you can't control it.
7. Never underestimate the importance of trust and loyalty.
Some of those you meet will be filled with honor and are worthy of your time. Others... well, they have different ideas. Trust and loyalty aren't given freely. And they also aren't "proven," as asking for proof has a tendency to keep you doubting others and seeing people though a pessimistic lens.
Trust and loyalty are demonstrated -- through both action and word. It's not just what they say, it's what they do that counts.
8. You are AMAZING... exactly as you are.
People change. Our bodies change. Our thoughts and outlook on life change. But none of that defines your amazingness. Fat, thin, old, young, dressed in sweats or the latest designer dress, at the worst job or making millions, single, married, or divorced... you are an amazing person filled with talents and gifts.
9. Choose who you love wisely.
It's written that love takes work. It doesn't; it just takes conscious effort. If you find yourself chasing love without reciprocation, or wondering why you are feeling like crap because of how they talk to you or treat you, then it's time to take a serious look at why you are still with them. This goes for any type of relationship -- friends, co-workers, or romantic interests.
10. Never stop chasing your dreams.
Yes, life is short. The bottom line is that none of us are going to make it out of this alive. As such, there is no destination for life... it's just a journey. Most often at the end of that journey, we don't feel remorse at the choices we made, but rather we are wistful at the choices we didn't make. Unrequited dreams are the stuff of regret.
Don't live with regret hunting you down waiting to tell you, "I told you so." Chase your dreams. Perhaps you achieve them; perhaps not. What matters most is that you stay true to your soul.
11. Failure isn't something to fear.
Don't be afraid of failure, as failure is the Universe's most valuable teaching tool. Those who are afraid to fail are also afraid to succeed. It matters not that you succeed every time -- and I'll save you the suspense; you won't. But in order to find the light, you'll need to risk the dark.
12. Don't take sh*t -- from anyone.
You are a strong, insightful, smart, funny, powerful, fun, brilliant, beautiful young woman. You have your head on straight and can see things for what they are. But sometimes what you see can shift and morph into something else -- be it people, actions, or situations. When you see things or people change, that's your moment to raise your eyebrows and say, "Oh, HELL no!" and take your leave.
You don't owe anyone anything. You can choose to give your time, money, possessions, body, smile, effort, or love to whomever you choose... but always do it on your terms. You are in charge of you.
As I wrap up this soliloquy of life advice, it's important that you know something: I am exceptionally proud of you.
My fervent hope has been to teach, show, and guide you toward creating a life filled with joy ... but it is now your turn to take what you have learned from those around you and try things out. Some things will work and fit for you; others will not.
Just remember that the sole purpose of life is to be happy.
So if you find yourself in places where you're not pleased, valued, or content... don't get frustrated or down; just adjust your course.
As you embark on the next phase of your life, I'm very excited for you, Jordan. You are ready, and I believe in you -- completely and without limits.
But no matter what happens or where your life takes you, just know that I'm always right here waiting with a huge hug to celebrate your victories, with a shoulder on which to cry out your setbacks, or with a stupid joke to pass the time while you wait in line at the bank.
And I'm always ready to play another game of Speed. Just let me know when you're free.
I'll always make the time.
Photos: Courtesy of the author