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To My Son as You Graduate, Words of Wisdom I Hope You'll Ignore

The time is short now. Your cap and gown are hanging in the closet. Your graduation announcements have been ordered. High school is almost over. You are ready. You are more than ready.
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Teenage boy with diploma
Teenage boy with diploma

The time is short now. Your cap and gown are hanging in the closet. Your graduation announcements have been ordered. High school is almost over. You are ready. You are more than ready.

But even though 18 years is a lifetime for you, for me it has been a vapor.

Suddenly I'm scrambling to think of last-minutes lessons that I might have forgotten or words of wisdom I've failed to impart. There's still time. Right?

The thing is, I'm blank.

We are proud of you, and we love you. I'm not sure what else to say.

So maybe I'll skip the last-minute advice -- except (you knew it was coming) to say that there will be some well-meaning friends, relatives, teachers, and greeting cards offering you words of wisdom traditionally given to the young as they set out into the world. I'm asking you to ignore these.

This sounds good. Right? Who doesn't want to be happy? The thing is (my apologies to our founding fathers) pursuing happiness rarely makes you happy -- at least not for long. Happiness isn't a bad thing, but it should be a byproduct of a life well-lived -- not the goal of life. Making happiness your goal is intrinsically selfish. Pursue goodness. Pursue peace. Pursue holiness. These are higher goals and the only way to be truly happy.

I'm not asking you to be someone else. I'm not suggesting you be fake. No one thinks you are more terrific than I do. But a lot of people, especially young people, shrug off glaring faults and bad behavior by declaring proudly, "That's just who I am." That's a cop-out. Don't just be yourself. Be the best version of yourself.

This is horrible advice. The truth is, following your heart or your gut or your feelings is not actually the best way to make decisions. "Follow your heart" is just a slightly more poetic way of saying, "Do what feels good." Follow your head -- or better yet, your conscience. Feelings change, but you can't go wrong with good sense and good morals.

Ummmmmm. No. You can't. You can do anything within reason as long as you believe -- and work hard and the timing is right and as long as other factors (other people, your health, the global economy, the weather, etc.) do not stand in your way.

There are sometimes factors beyond our control. There are sometimes limitations. This isn't to say that you shouldn't set goals. But remember that life is not about reaching some far-off goal just to prove you can. The best success is a life, sometimes a seemingly ordinary life, lived in love and devotion to God and to others. Believe in that.

Don't fret. Don't worry. But by all means think beyond the moment. Because when the fun of the moment is over, you are stuck with the consequences.

OK, maybe sometimes. But sometimes the road is well-traveled because it is the best road. History is full of saints and scholars who have blazed that trail for you. Often it's wise to stay on it.

So, there you go. Some great advice not to follow.

But wait! I did think of some last-minute words of advice that you absolutely should follow: Always be kind. Say your prayers. Call your mother.