Your Later Years: A Commencement Speech for the Graduates of 2008

Published in All Pawtucket All the Tie on June 13, 2008

College graduates, you live in interesting times.  Gas prices are spiraling out of control, now heading past $ 4.00 per gallon.  Like a growing number of Americans, Ed McMahon, who appeared for decades as Johnny Carson’s sidekick on NBC’s Tonight Show, is today fighting to avoid bank foreclosure on his multimillion dollar house in Beverly Hills. Rhode Island’s economy is now in a recession and state-wide unemployment is up. The nation is still at war in Iraq. What sage advice can be given to you as graduates for a more hopeful and promising future?

This month, throughout the state’s Colleges and Universities the Class of 2008 sit and listen to commencement speeches, given by well-know lawmakers, judges, television personalities and CEOs, about how they can personally overcome current  economic and policy challenges that our nation faces.  These graduates are also given tips that might assist them in having a rewarding personal and professional life.

Some advice for 2008 Graduates

Here I sit with a written commencement speech but no place to go.  But in a heart beat if I was to give you my thoughts to the class of 2008, I would urge them to age gracefully and not fight against it.  Aging baby boomers, the dwindling members of the Pepsi Generation, still grasp onto their youth, fearing the onset of wrinkles, sagging stomachs, and gray hair.  As you move into middle age and beyond, learn to see life as a journal, do not dwell on the final destination.

Years ago my late father gave me “Life’s Little Instruction Book.” At that time, this book was listed as a bestseller by The New York Times, and gave readers 511 suggestions, observations and reminders on how to live a rewarding later years. I give you my version of this book, which I can hopefully provide you simple tips and a road map throughout your later stag es as to how one might age gracefully.

In facing life’s challenges, focus on the positive.   You make dily choices as to how you will tackle and re act to life’s problems. Remember you can see the proverbial glass as “half-full” or “half empty.”  A positive attitude becomes important to successfully age.

Forgive Yourself and Others

As we grow older, it becomes so easy to continually reflect on our successes and focus more on the bad hands we are dealt throughout our lives.  Each and every day, savor your personal and professional victories, but always forgive yourself for your defeats and failures.

Don’t live in the past, live in the present, but keep your eye on the future.  Time flies by swiftly, in the blink of an eye. A spiritual teachers once told her followers to view one’s life as a cancelled check.  Let go of those past regrets and mistakes you made in your childhood and those you will make in your middle years. Learn to forgive yourself for passing up opportunities.  There is just not enough time left to carry the burdens of past guilt or grudges.

If you can forgive yourself, it is rucial for you to forgive others, even those who hurt you personally and professionally.  You cannot live or reconcile your life peacefully if you are still holding on the grudges , anger and bitterness, all tied to past actions.

As you grow older and accumulate life experiences, don’t be afraid to share your life story with others, especially with younger people who can benefit from it.  You will have a huge reservoir of untapped wisdom gained through life’s trials.  As a parent and later a grandparent, share your insights and lessons you have learned throughout the cyclical ups and downs of your life.  The generations following you will be at a loss if you choose to be silent and keep your knowledge from them.

Use it or lose it.  “Stay as physically active as you can,” URI Gerontologist Phil Clark once told me.  He said,” if you rest, you rust.”  Physical exercise elevates our modd and benefits your cardiovascular system.

Aging research also tells us that you must also exercise your brain.  Make time to read your newspapers, magazines, and books. Spend some time working on a challenging crossword pussle, or play chess.

See the bigger picture of life. Engage in daily acts of loving kindness to others.  Research tells us that volunteer work can be a protective buffer from the curve ball that life may throw our way as we age.

Keep up you social contacts and personal connections with others.  When you require help, always ask for it.  Don’t be afraid of asking your family, friends, and colleagues for support and assistance. There wil always be opportunities for you to help and care for others, too.

Enjoy Simplicity in Your Life

Learn to slow down and enjoy the simple moments of your life.  Author Connie Goldman notes that the simple act of watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset or even puttering around your garden can be as stimulating as a jam-packed calendar of activities.

There are no sure bets in life except death, taxes and growing old.  So, Class 2008, make the most of life.  Embrace your later years and go for the gusto.  Enjoy your journey.

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