It’s officially graduation time. Many of you are getting a fancy piece of paper soon. If your school is awesome it will say “Level up: Life Skill AWESOME acquired.” For most of you it will just say your name and some words in Latin. Sucks to suck.
When I was an undergrad I remember looking forward to graduation so much. I thought to myself on a regular basis, “Just get through this. When it’s all done you’ll be able to make money and start your life.” By the time that day actually came, I was so underwhelmed with the college experience that I didn’t even bother to show up.
At least real life had started. And I was off to the races… not really. I had to move back in with my mom because I hadn’t made any job plans and didn’t feel motivated to sign up for twp more years of college. I basically spent a year screwing off before deciding I needed a Master’s Degree. With that degree I eventually ended up working at a college. Now, at 29 years old, I’m getting ready to leave to do something huge and I finally feel prepared for it because of the lessons I’ve learned here.
In the last four years I’ve met people who are in their early 20s who I consider peers and equals; people who organize groups, throw giant successful events and still have time to kick school’s ass; people who study abroad for months at a time (and sometimes decide not to come home); people who make these crazy life altering decisions and go through so much pain for the sake of upholding a benevolent idea. I’ve learned a little bit from every single one of you. And I need you to know something else: You’ve changed my life. Just watching you do what you do has given me so much excitement about the world. You taught me the value of college just a few years late.
There are some of you who might be wondering what the value of your education is. You still might be in school. You still might be trying to figure out what it is you’re going to do with your life. I learned a lot about that these last four years. I noticed that everyone who was kicking ass had a few things in common and as I get ready to leave and attempt to spread the gospel of “Be Awesome,” I’d like to share what I saw in them as a doctrine for excellence.
And so I give you the 10 commandments of Being Awesome:
1. Be a dork.
A person who confidently and assertively loves Dungeons & Dragons is always cooler (and somehow more attractive to the opposite sex) than a person who wears a snapback and gets hammered for the sake of trying to look cool. It’s been amazing for me to realize that some of the most confident and respectable people are, in their heart of hearts, nerds that don’t give a shit if you call them nerds. Pay close attention to the people who you admire for doing extraordinary things. They are only able to do those things by breaking the boundaries of what is deemed as “normal.”
2. Say YES to new things.
This was my single biggest failing as an undergrad. I didn’t join clubs because I didn’t want to feel like the new kid/outsider. I didn’t want to dance because I might look silly. I turned down hundreds of opportunities to do what was comfortable and ended up missing the boat entirely. If you’re going to be excellent you have to know who you are and what you offer. If you want to know who you are and what you offer, you have to figure out what you like and don’t like. If you want to find out what you like and don’t like, you have to try EVERYTHING you get access to. That all starts by saying Yes. The most excellent people at any college are involved in a few things. They understand the opportunities they’re missing if they just go to class and call that their education.
3. Don’t take criticism personally.
EVERYONE who I saw accomplish something big these last four years was told in the beginning that what they wanted to do was not possible. In every situation I saw whoever was about to do something great say, “fuck the haters. I’m doing it anyway” and then proceed to create something unbelievable. When someone says something is impossible, they mean it’s impossible for them. If you have a vision, break their rules. Break them often and don’t feel guilty. Here’s one of my favorite examples: SUNY OSWEGO RAIL JAM
4. Embrace failure.
For every good idea there are 10 bad ones. The key is to let bad ideas go and focus on the positives you’ve built. It’s cliche to say but failures aren’t people who fail. Failures are people who fail and feel sorry for themselves instead of going back to the drawing board with the lessons they’ve learned. Every awesome person I’ve met here has failed numerous times. The interesting thing is you’d never know it. Instead of whining about it on Twitter, they went back in the lab and reformatted their ideas.
5. Drink less.
And smoke less weed. Sure you have to be social and casual beers are a way to get there. I’ll admit that many of the cool things that I’ve done here in the last few years were dreamed up over beers and bullshit. I’ll even concede that going out and getting hammered once in a blue moon is your right as an American. However, basing your life around getting messed up is like stopping time while continuing to get old. When you wake up, it’s astounding to see how much time has been lost. I’ve never met anyone who talks about getting wasted all week and lives an excellent life at the same time.
6. Give everyone a chance.
I always had a hard time with this because I always wanted to be seen with the “cool” kids in hopes of grabbing some of their status. I noticed something interesting about the people I consider to be excellent — they hang out with everyone. They have the oddest friends and they love them all. This gives them access to all sorts of strange worlds and social circles. Best friends come from strange and unexpected places so try not to judge anyone before you get to know them. This has a cool side effect too — when you try to see the positives in other people instead of judging them harshly, the voice that thinks other people are judging YOU harshly tends to shut up. I learned this just a couple of years ago from an 18-year-old.
7. Stop listening to grownups.
At some point you know more about you than your parents do. Embrace that fact. Run with it. Listen, I can tell you from experience that when you’re about to do something awesome, your parents are going to try to talk you out of it. They do that because they’ve had to stop your stupid ass from sticking your finger in a light socket from the time your chubby little legs could get you there. They’re trained to think you’re going to do the wrong thing because, let’s face it, you’ve done that thing a lot and their meddling has saved your fragile ignorant life. At some point, though, you become a grown up. That means that your decisions are actually worth pursuing. No one can tell you when that is. You just have to know. Don’t wait for a diploma or a job or a wife to prove to yourself that you’re capable of making decisions. My guess is that if you’re interested enough in this to be reading this far, you’re already there. Now go do something.
8. Help others instead of yourself.
This will be impossible until you get a handle on Number 6. Helping people does a lot. First, it fills a need for someone. Second, it reminds you that you are of some value to the world. Third, it puts value into the “community fund” which I’ll define as: People feeling good and connected. The value of that community fund is directly proportional to how easy it will be for you to be picked up on days when you feel like you’re out of gas. When you help yourself you’re only getting the first thing and the other two go untouched. As long as you can let other people help you, this is a much more sound investment. I do have to note that SO MANY people fuck this up. They call it karma or tit for tat and they want a reward for their good deed immediately. If you expect that, the thing doesn’t work because you’re not really helping someone else, you’re just trying to help yourself.
9. Don’t stop learning.
Most people stop learning around their sophomore year. Boredom has set in. They’re interested in grades and credits. If this is you, drop out of school immediately. Or at least utilize the other four million opportunities that college affords you by joining a club, taking up a new hobby, or better yet, going on a service trip. Learning has little to do with sitting in a classroom being talked at. I learned more in the last four years than I did in six years of higher education and I didn’t go to a single class except for when I was giving a lecture or playing pranks on Dr. Burch’s Human Sexuality Class. I learned all of it by meeting people who were interested in different things or collaborating on projects. The most engaged people I’ve met here were students who had side-hustles. They were using the school’s money to fund ski trips or climbing trips. They used the design labs to cook up their projects. They used the recording studio to record their band’s record. Oh and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM TRAVELED. College is a great place to get acquainted with the world through travel. Every awesome person I know utilized that opportunity. I firmly believe that if you don’t, you are wasting your time and money.
10. Life starts today.
Above all else, you need to realize that you’re already the person you hope to become. Stop waiting. You might be 15 years old and you might be 40. Life starts today. Waiting for some day to come when someone else gives you a permission slip to live is a sure-fire one-way ticket to Sucksville. You want to know what happens in Sucksville? You spend your whole life doing a job you hate and waiting for your big break while watching TV and eating Chinese food as a little treat once a week. Then you have a heart attack and die. Don’t go to Sucksville. It sucks there.
This stuff is easy. Being awesome doesn’t depend on your parents, or the amount of money you have, or what you’re good at. All you need to do is make the decision to behave in a manner that is more awesome. Saying yes is only a little different than saying no. Drinking less is just drinking less. It’s easy. If you can figure out how to stop listening to the voice in your head that is afraid of the unknown and instead say, “Fuck it, from now I’m gonna be awesome,” then you’ll be on your way to kicking ass in no time. I can actually guarantee that.
Your first order of business? Start with #8 and share this with your friends. You’ll be helping me a lot. Thanks!
With love, cookies and rainbows,
Self-Appointed graduate of the Class of 2013.