2012 Area High School Commencement Address: Do what you want in life and enjoy the journey

By Hannah Harkin, Guest Columnist

I would like to start by sincerely welcoming all of the staff, faculty, friends and family that we have with us today. I am sure that I speak for all of the graduates when I say how thankful we are that you have supported us for the past four years — many of you far longer than that — and how thankful we are that you are here supporting us today.

And to my fellow classmates, the graduates of 2012, I would just like to say: We made it. After 13 years of schooling, we have finally made it. We started out doing spelling words and making tessellations and eventually we progressed our way to writing annotated bibliographies and taking the anti-derivative of indefinite integrals and now here we are, anticipating having our diplomas in our hands and hoping that we don’t trip on the way up.

We have come so far from where we began and now that this monumental occasion in our lives has arrived, I have to be honest with you all. I haven’t really decided how I feel about it yet.

Some of us are sad and remorseful to leave, while others have been saying “get me out of here” since sophomore year and lately I have been feeling a little bit of both. But I think what has been occupying my mind even more than graduation is what comes after we have our diplomas.

A very unique and infinitely wise man — our lovely calculus teacher— has been reminding us a lot lately that after we graduate very soon, we are not going on summer vacation, and we are not getting a break, and we are not even really going back to school in the fall. We are living life.

After high school, it is not called summer vacation or college; it is called life. And it’s pretty scary. Think about it for a second. It is kind of terrifying to know that you will be on your own in the world, and that you can fail. It’s scary to think that the real world is not like high school and that you can fall flat onto your face and watch your dreams go down the drain.

The other day I was talking with my mom about my fears of facing real life and she turned to me with this almost baffled look and said,  “Hannah you must be joking. You are ready. You are beyond ready. You have grown so much as a person and experienced so many things that have prepared you for life after high school. And as for being alone in the world, do not ever worry about that because I will always be here for you.” And I realized that — as usual — my mom was right.

We have learned and experienced countless things that have prepared us for life. Just like kindergarten, high school has taught us many important lessons.

We learned that first impressions matter because they shape how others perceive us, and we learned that being involved is essential because it can end up shaping who we become. We learned that hard work and perseverance are endlessly important because, with these two aspects, almost any goal can be achieved eventually. And possibly most important of all, we learned the significance of friendship. We learned to make grand, life-lasting friends because life is always more fun when you have people you love living it with you.

I would like to share a story with you all that some of you may have heard before. My eighth grade English teacher, Ms. Dennis, told this story to us at the end of our eighth grade year, as she does for all of her students, and I believe that she told it last year at the Honor’s Banquet, so bear with me if you know how it goes.

Quite some time ago, there was a group of nomads traveling through the Sahara Desert in search of truth and meaning in life. On one particular night, they set up their camp and all snuggled down into a deep sleep.

All of the sudden, a huge ray of light shot down from the black sky right into the center of their camp. This huge glowing yellow light was like a pillar stretching from the center of their camp all the way up to the night sky. The nomads were startled and stumbled out of their tents. They drew near to the light source hoping it would share with them the truth and wisdom they were seeking.

Sure enough, a voice came from the pillar and told the nomads “gather up all of the pebbles you can carry, then travel one day’s journey. At the end of the day, it will find you happy and it will find you sad.” After a pause the tower dissolved back into the sky.

The nomads were speechless. Then, slowly, a few of them began to gather up pebbles. Others were skeptical and began to complain, so some picked up no pebbles at all. After this was over, those who had collected pebbles stored them in their saddle bags and went back to sleep.

The next morning they rose and traveled one day’s journey. At the end of the day, those nomads who had collected pebbles checked their saddle bags to see what wonders the light had left them with, and they had wonders indeed. Each pebble had turned into a diamond.

You see, they were happy because they had all of these riches, but they were sad because they had not collected more and some had collected none at all. I promise that this is not a story about greed, but rather, about getting as much out of life as you possibly can and not regretting that you didn’t take more.

It is my hope for you all that you live life to its fullest. I hope that you go out and do crazy things and have great times. I hope that you make the choice to do difficult things and struggle rather than take the easy way out. I also hope that you make mistakes and experience failure, because failure is how we learn and our failures shape us into who we are. Please, you guys, do not be afraid of failing, because you will; I certainly know that I will. I already have. Don’t be afraid to experience life and learn new things, because I promise that you will never regret learning and experiencing more, but you will always regret denying the opportunity to learn and experience new things.

Take as much from life as you can; it has so much to offer. There is so much knowledge and so many experiences and so much love that is there for the taking. You never know which rocks will turn into diamonds, so do not be afraid to collect them.

I would like to leave you with a quote that says: “The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created — created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.”

I hope that you all have faith in what you want to do in life and that you go do it. But please, no matter how scary it may be, enjoy the journey.

Hannah Harkin is a 2012 graduate of Little Falls Community High School. She gave one of the commencement addresses at her graduation ceremony.