Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To the Da Vinci Academy Middle School Class of 2008, and Others

So, hello Class of 2008!

I've been brought before you today by the Powers that Be (i.e. Ms. Burns) to give a speech. And the subject of that speech that the Powers that Be have brought me here to give to you is that you should all follow your dreams.

I know that's probably one of the cornier things you will hear today, but that doesn't make it any less of a good idea. People say it a lot because it's true. You should set goals for yourselves, and try to achieve them. Some of you might want to be doctors. The best way to become a doctor is to take lots of biology and go to medical school. If you want to become a lawyer, you should take lots of English and go to law school. And if you want to become a clown, study humor and go to clown school. By setting and working towards goals, you can accomplish nearly anything.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to warn you all against the dangers of living a goal-oriented life. It's good to work towards a goal, but if you make one thing—say, becoming a doctor—the focal point of your life, you miss out on the rest of life. When I say, “follow your dreams,” I don't mean that you should slavishly devote your life to accomplishing the one thing you've determined you want. That's probably the worst possible thing you could do: people are bad at knowing what will make them happy. Take my father, for example. When he was getting ready to go to college, he was certain he wanted to be a plasma physicist. Now, many years later, he researches new technologies for water treatment, and he couldn't be happier.

When I say that you should follow your dreams, what I really mean is that you should be a little dreamy. Be spontaneous and out there when the situation calls fort it. Dreams are the antithesis of a plodding, goal-oriented life. When was the last time you had a dream that made logical sense? If you really want to follow your dreams, be random. You'll never know if you absolutely love something, be it model rocketry, or unicycling, or video production, unless you try doing it. You'll never know that you want to be an actor, or a historian, or, yes, even a clown, unless you try being them.

Trying new things and becoming new people is really what high school is all about. Some people will try to tell you high school is about studying, or preparing for college, but it's not. It's about figuring out who you are, who you want to be, and what you love. Once you know that, college, learning, and everything else follows.

It is good to have a goal in your life to work towards, but it is vital to remember that goals, plans, and people all change, and that very few things are less fun than living the life and achieving the goals of someone whom you have ceased to be. So, work towards your goals, but follow your dreams. Make friends with people who aren't “your type.” Take classes in things you know nothing about. Join a club you've never heard of. Don't ask yourself “why?”. Ask “why not?”.
I'd like to close with a quote from Randall Munroe, who got a degree in physics in college, spent some time doing work for NASA, and then decided that what he really wanted to do was to write a webcomic full-time. This is what I used as my “senior quote” in my high-school yearbook, and I hope you find it as inspiring as I did:

“Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors. And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they're doing. Do things without always knowing how they'll turn out.”

So, I say congratulations to the class of 2008, and wish the best of luck to the class of 2012. Set goals, follow dreams, and live life.

Thank you.

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