Ten days ago our daughter Gracie graduated with a Master’s degree from Jacksonville University, my alma mater. She was a better student than me. I never got straight As, nor did I earn a Master’s.
By the time she crossed the stage and was hooded, a couple hours had passed. I had passed the time by looking around the packed First Baptist Church and thought of many things.
Surely all 800+ students, family, and friends were just as happy and proud as Gracie, her mother, and me. I have traveled a curious road since earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration many presidents ago. I worked my way through school as a meat cutter in a grocery store. My hands remain proof that the 40-to-70 hours per week I spent doing so prove I was just as mediocre a tradesman as I was a student.
Gracie graduated with honors from Florida State University two years ago. The economy was in the tank and it seemed pointless to join the ranks of the unemployed with other options available. She secured an entry level job at JU in the university advancement department. She worked all day and attended class at night to earn her post-graduate degree.
Gracie ran the table: straight As. The only thing I knew about As in college was that other people got them. I was a middle of the bell curve student but did my best, graduated on time, and hoped that once I got out hard work and smart time choices would take me where I wanted to go.
In that regard, I lucked out. Life blossomed in ways I never imagined and I live a luckier life than I’d hoped. I am fortunate and know it. Plus I’m still here to write about it. Many friends are not and I miss them.
Gracie’s graduation ceremony was scheduled to be held outside on campus but nature did not cooperate. A three-day deluge left North Florida under water and forced the festivities indoors. The First Baptist Church — made famous years ago by popular televangelist Homer G. Lindsay Jr. — volunteered its location for a kind, token payment.
Like all parents, I sat there thinking about how children teach us just as much (or more) as we teach them. Inspired by the culturally diverse audience — graduates at this small private university came from 21 countries — I started thinking about what Gracie has taught me, and what might lie ahead as school recedes and her incoming tide of real life rolls in.
Listed below are 15 thoughts I hope she keeps in mind. I share them in no particular order.
- Bad memories can turn into good ones if you give them the chance. I had sworn decades ago to never again step inside First Baptist Church. The last time I was there was when my college girlfriend’s brother, a teenager, borrowed her car and took his life in it. I was not there when Nicky died. We had broken up because I was hardheaded and immature. When the phone call came, I jumped on the first plane, flew down to be with her and her father, and sat in that church, numbly realizing it was over between us. The entire tragedy was a nightmare of the greatest degree. And, like other times since, when life crumbled I blamed a building, a city, or some other silly thing.
On graduation day, First Baptist was forced upon me. Once inside I realized a very big life lesson had been handed to me along with Gracie’s commencement program: a room is nothing. The people that are everything. First Baptist went from a never return memory to a place of joy and happiness. Sitting there at graduation I knew I had learned a very important life lesson thanks to my daughter and the rain.
- Build an osprey nest. The osprey is a large fish-eating bird of prey, two-feet tall with a five-foot wingspan, that builds its nest high above ground near water on a variety of man-made structures like power poles, platforms, and channel markers. The nest is made from sticks and lined with grasses, seaweed, moss, lichens, bark, and sometimes mud. Nests are large, sturdy, and built to last. Many are renovated each season, and some have been used for 70 years.
Ospreys return and add to the their nest each year. They zone their lives and remain close to what they need. They are excellent anglers, catching fish on at least one of every four dives. Some succeed two times out of three. On average it takes an osprey 12 minutes to catch food. Lesson to be learned: A good, solid home life is important. Build a foundation that lasts, near things that matter most.
- Rely on your parents less. Just like the osprey hatchlings who grow up, when it’s time to fly away, trust your wings. Go. Spread your wings and take flight. You are free to go, to see what you want and find your own way.
- Build the life you want to live. Worry less about what others say and more about what makes you feel good about who you are. Gracie moved 1,731 miles away from home to go grow up. She’s happy, which trumps the distance. The key now is making the right choices to find personal fulfillment.
- Be positive. Business and society both need more positive people. Be significant in the lives of others. Since attitude is a choice, when we seek what’s good, we see what’s good. Positive people quickly realize they have no time for negative people.
- Be nice. It’s free. And contagious.
- Do what you love. If money matters, you will find a way to make it.
- Money means nothing unless you don’t have any. The rich become easily spoiled. If success comes your way, do not let it change your core kindness. Money comes, money goes. The measure of a man or woman is not what he or she has, but who he or she is.
- Don’t cheat on your taxes. Pay what you owe. You’ll sleep better.
- Surround yourself with good friends. If you gather your inner circle around a dinner table, are you proud to sit among them? If some do not belong, move them from the center of your inner circle to the periphery.
- Live within your means. Until you’re happy with who you are, you’ll never be happy with what you have. Once you are happy with who you are, you realize you’ve already got everything you need. Stay adequately insured, too.
- Get smarter every day. There are three types of smarts: book smarts, street smarts, and life smarts. Habitual reading delivers book smarts. Street smarts come from role models and coaches. Life smarts come from the pursuit of wisdom, which is what occurs when we apply what we learn from life experiences. Accumulate wisdom. These three teamed together really help further on down the road. They raise the ceiling of what we are capable of becoming.
- Maximize the DPI (“dots per inch”) of life’s hyphen. Lifespans bridge our birth year with our death. The hyphen in between those two numbers is made up of tiny little dots. Make those dots represent events of your life, not just days. A rich life jams a lot of events between the two numbers. The more events, the greater your DPI. Maximize your DPI.
- Consciously work on interpersonal communication. There are four elements: sender (us), receiver (others), channel (the vehicle through which we communicate), and the message (how we say it). Learn as much as you can about all four elements and your effectiveness will grow.
- Take zilch for granted. Days drag but years fly. Live with passion and urgency and make stuff happen. Don’t oversubscribe yourself at the expense of getting enough rest, but don’t waste time — it’s too precious to spare.
That’s it for me. If I forgot a few, let me know. And in closing, congratulations to all graduates in the class of 2013. Great things are ahead. It’s time to tighten your shoelaces and get after them! Best of luck to all of you.
Larissa Kalnins saysMay 18, 2013 at 6:54 pm
Great article! Thanks for including all of those simple truths to keep you grounded – in the daily hustle and bustle we tend to forget that the world doesn’t revolve around us and that we need to put work in to reap the rewards. Point 12 is great – reminds me of a saying that we should “create more than we consume”, and start producing content, therefor expanding our knowledge, before we “earn” a break and consume others knowledge.