Graduation season is once again upon us. It's a time of great hope, excitement, pride...and of course gifts. The other day I found myself thinking about what would make a great grad gift this year. Naturally money never goes out of style, but the truth is, if I had my druthers (and a magic wand), I'd give them all something much more valuable.
The gift I'd truly like to impart is FRIENDSHIP, specifically the kind of lifelong friends that I was lucky enough to amass during my time at the beloved, but sadly defunct Bentley High School, and the perpetually cool Michigan State University. Although, I'm not really sure how much luck has to do with it. Luck, or some would say fate, may have everything to do with who we meet along our journeys, but who we actually befriend, and remain connected to, is our own doing.
Over the years, whenever I've mentioned that I was getting together with my friends from high school, someone inevitably tells me how lucky I am. It seems most people don't stay in close touch with many of the people that they grew up with, and I can understand why...it's hard work. I think when we graduate from high school or college, we feel so close to our friends after spending every day with them that the idea of not being in each other's lives seems downright ridiculous and then it often happens before we know it.
It happens because maintaining those relationships takes a concerted effort. It's seemingly easier now with texting and Facebook, and all the other technological opportunities, but I'm not sure that's really true. I think the illusion of being in touch is easier. A post on Facebook can be easily missed by friends who don't use it frequently. Texts and tweets can only say so much.
If you want to truly stay in each other's lives it will take lengthy emails with real detail in them (formerly known as letters--ask your parents & they'll explain them to you). Perhaps try phone or Skype sessions, but on a regular enough basis that you don't spend the entire time explaining what your job is or who your loved ones are, just so the story you're telling can be understood. Most important of all, when possible, get together...in the same room. Break bread, share laughs, meet each other's significant others and kids. If you do, you will be rewarded with many a delightful conversation, and moreover, with people you can really count on for the rest of your life.
So to my young friends who are about to take the next step in an unfolding mystery that is life, I say, take stock. Look closely at the people who are around you at this moment. Some of them made you laugh so hard it hurt. They comforted you when things got unbearably tough. They know your family, and your history, and at times they seem to know you better than you know yourself. Look closely at the people that fit that bill. They are likely to be the ones so close to you that you can't imagine anything ever getting in the way of your friendship, but you're wrong.
Life is about to throw you curve ball after curve ball. Some of you will get married and have kids decades ahead of others. A few will move across the nation or across the world. The highly competitive university and job market will start to consume a bunch of your time, and before you know it, years can pass by. Then you'll think, I can't call now, it's been too long.
You can avoid all that by committing now to making your friendships a priority. Even as life begins to get in the way, it is worth the extra effort to schedule time with those who matter most. Sure at times you'll have to endure conversations when it seems you have nothing left in common anymore, or can talk only about the past, but it's worth it. These will also be the people who will get you through the loss of a parent or a job. They will poke fun at you like only old friends can, and they will take pride in your accomplishments like few others will.
This is a great big world and having people in your life who truly know you and love you is what it's all about.
In fact, as time goes on just being from the same hometown or having gone to the same school will connect you to people in ways it's hard to imagine when you're young. Trust me, when you're at some overwhelming networking event with 200 strangers in the room, and you recognize a face from high school, it won't matter that they were in the band and you played hockey. Suddenly, the room will get a little bit warmer and the world a little smaller. Someday you'll probably travel halfway around the globe and meet another person from Michigan, and that alone will be enough in common to sit together on a tour bus or share a meal.
Yes, there are amazing adventures to be had, and yet there is always comfort to be found in those who knew you when. When I started this sometimes overwhelming campaign, I knew I couldn't do it on my own. The first people to support me aside from my family were my BHS and MSU cohorts. They've guided me in mind and spirit all along the way. They've offered help, spread the word to others, and shown up when I needed them most. To all my Bulldog and Spartan cronies, thank you for years and years of love, support, and friendship.
And to all the grads out there...congratulations on your accomplishment and remember my gift to you is that you've been warned. Take stock and work as hard on your life as you will in your careers. (oh, and to the actual grads in my own life, don't worry, this isn't your only gift).
Lastly, to all, it's never really too late. Whomever it is that you are remembering fondly and missing right now...look them up and say hello.
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