YP Note: This is the first post by a guest blogger on iamyellowperil.com! Caitlin Krier was asked to be the commencement speaker at a high school graduation, and here is a transcript of her speech.
When Principal French first asked me to speak at your graduation, I accepted with an enthusiastic, resounding “YES, I would love to.” Then, three months later, I realized that I actually had to think of something to say, some clever words of insight, tales of lessons learned and my advice to you as you leave behind this first phase of your life and head out into the world. And I went completely blank.
The truth is, I’m not that much older than all of you. I make my weekend plans through text messages, I listen to music on iTunes, and yes, I have a very active Facebook page. In fact, even my mom has a Facebook page. So I began to think about what I’ve done to get to get here, the steps that I’ve taken in my life to become the person that I am today. I haven’t had the most traditional of paths – after graduating from college, I returned to South America (where I had studied sociology in Buenos Aires for a year) to begin an eight month backpacking trip across the continent. Along the way I spent three months teaching and choreographing dance at a Peruvian orphanage so remote that it took an hour to hike to the nearest dirt road. No telephones, no internet, no newspapers, just me and thirty young Peruvian women learning to dance. I am now the program associate for a health education nonprofit, and no, I did not have any idea that this is what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I live in Los Angeles, a city of over 10 million people, and literally worlds apart from the small mountain towns where I lived in South America.
In thinking through these pieces of my life that appear so dissimilar, I searched for a common thread, the link that would tie everything together and from which I could unearth some wisdom to pass along to you. I found this link, and it is beautifully, remarkably simple: people. As a famous singer/song writer once said, “Turns out it’s not where but who you’re with that really matters.”
Sometimes the same people stick with you throughout the whole thing. I met my best friend in the world when we were only three years old, and for the past 21 years we have remained as close as ever despite never actually attending school together or even living in the same city. My advice to you – and pay close attention here – is that when you find those people who really get you, do not let them slip away. If they don’t live near you, as is often the case in post-high school life, Facebook message them, write them letters, call them to remind them that you think they are wonderful. Don’t forget to thank them- because being a true friend is the greatest gift that someone can give to you-and don’t forget their birthdays. Put in that extra effort to hold onto your old friends, and trust me, it will pay off in a big way.
But you will not live your life being surrounded exclusively by friends of five or ten or fifty years. And so I want to recommend to you a different role that people can play in your journey, propose to you a new, more inclusive definition of friendship. C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia books like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” said it best: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ ” When you leave high school, wherever your path may lead, take out your headphones, look people in the eyes, and seek out those connections. They may appear in the form of a twenty minute conversation with an woman on the bus traveling home for her mother’s 95th birthday party, telling you about her plans to play Abba’s “Dancing Queen” and invite her mother, wheel chair cast to the side, to get up and dance. They occur in the drugstore when you’re buying toothpaste, and at the counter, instead of just going through the motions, you actually listen to the cashier’s response when you ask how her day is going.
My challenge to all of you is to not just interact, but impact. When you have a brief encounter with another human being, don’t just talk, teach. Find people who have completely different perspectives than your own, people who stand for everything that you are against, and learn from them. You may not change your mind, and in fact, it’s likely that your own beliefs will be reinforced- but if you look for it, I bet you can find that “You too? I thought I was the only one” moment. And when you do, embrace it.
At 18, you don’t need me to tell you that not all people are positive and friendly and open to this kind of interaction. I know that you have all already met the type of people who are so insecure that they want to bring you down if only to feel better about themselves. But while you don’t always have control over who is in your life, you do always have control over how you let those people influence you. Actively seek out positive, healthy connections, and these people, these friends of five minutes or the time it takes for the bus to reach its next stop, will build you up to be the very best version of yourself.
This is not to say that you will not experience moments of loneliness. No matter how many close friends and passing acquaintances you acquire in the world, there will be times when you feel like no one understands what you’re going through. But know this: if you can learn to approach life with an open mind, seeking out those people with whom you can connect, however briefly, these moments of loneliness will be much fewer and further in-between. And trust me -having the right people along the way will make your journey just that much more fun.
Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2011.
Caitlin Krier graduated cum laude from Pomona College with a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies in 2009. She currently is working with the Peer Health Exchange, a non-profit organization in Los Angeles that promotes health education in high schools. She is originally from the Bay Area.