This morning, I was deeply honored to be the speaker at the Collaborative for Educational Services’ HEC Academy graduation ceremony. I shared six life lessons I’ve learned along the way. Congratulations to HEC students, families, faculty staff, and everyone who is celebrating this incredible achievement today!
Hampshire Educational Collaborative Graduation
Sage Hall, Smith College
June 7, 2019
Greetings esteemed graduates and families, Academy faculty and staff, and honored guests.
It is my pleasure to speak to you on this auspicious day. Filled—I’d imagine—with one part joy and one part anticipation of what’s to come as you leap forward.
It’s my hope that your education has been like a spark.
It’s your job now to turn that spark into a splendid torch. (More on that torch in a moment.)
I have the privilege to work for most of you in Boston as your state senator—representing 24 of the most beautiful cities and towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
And in thinking about today and my own path to elected office, I thought I’d share six of my own life guide posts as you set off on your journey.
Number one: In my life, I’ve learned just as much—and likely more—from the mistakes I’ve made as I have from any class or book. (And let me tell you, I could write out a loooooong list of mistakes I’ve made, and only scratch the surface.)
I’ve learned to see mistakes as gifts, signs that I’m growing and trying new things. Growing out wedges if you will. And I’ve become really good at dusting myself off, taking a deep breath, and moving on.
Number two: Feeling grateful for what’s in front of me feels good. And thanking people who’ve helped me get or done something positive in the world feels even better.
Number three: Never let anybody tell you there’s only one road to get where you want to go. One path that leads to your dream. Because they’d be wrong. My path to the Senate has been one heck of a windy road and everything I’ve done to date makes me a tougher, smarter, more compassionate lawmaker though I could not have known it at the time. Be true to yourself. Listen to your own instincts. Ask more questions than you ever thought possible. Be fearless. Explore the impossible. Break down boundaries. Your life from today is yours to live to its fullest. And only you can.
And this leads me to number four: As much as this is a huge milestone for you and those who love you, it’s also just the beginning. And you’ll have a lot of these moments going forward. It’s almost like you’ll push and pull and sweat your way to the top of a mountain only to see an even higher ridge in front of you. So enjoy the climb in the moment. It’s as important—or maybe even more important—than reaching the top.
Don’t postpone joy and stay awake in the world, which is number five.
I’m sorry to say that—amid real natural beauty, stunning humanity, and boundless promise—our world is in trouble at the moment. And it needs you and your generation who are demanding that we wake up to the mounting climate crisis, fully fund our public schools, pay living wages for a day’s work, and so much more. You are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Your work, your ideas, your actions will write the next chapter of our nation’s story.
And lastly, number six: Find your own star. Your own guide. I collect quotes and passages from people—thinkers, prophets, leaders, poets. Over time, they’ve been arrayed around my computer or tucked into journals or plastered on book covers or in tatters in my bag from being unfolded, read, and then tucked away again. I think of them as the stars I follow that keep me honest and on the road I need to travel.
Like President Nelson Mandela who wrote that lifelong education is the “most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”
Or poet Marge Piercy who taught me that the people I love best in the world “jump into work head first.”
Or playwright George Bernard Shaw who wrote about a splendid torch. (I promised to get back to this torch!)
Here’s the passage where I first read about Shaw’s torch—and what it means to be thoroughly used up when I die:
“This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.
I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me.
It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
The Academy, your families, people around you who love you, and your own hard work have sparked a splendid torch and you’ve gotten hold of it for a moment.
Here’s to making it burn as brightly as you possibly by taking actions that you love and that the world needs.