Graduations are such an exciting time of year. I’m one of the sick people in the world who absolutely love commencement speeches. Words of wisdom, reflection, expression of gratitude. All that normally encompasses the 10-20 minutes given to that special someone who has earned the honor of addressing the graduating class.
I created Reeder Consulting because my entire life I’ve cared deeply about education. As a “First Gen” myself, I have seen first-hand how getting a college degree changed my life and gave me a career in higher education, the corporate world and non-profit. It’s also why I take a very different approach than other’s who believe you must encourage young people to overschedule and overwork themselves in order to earn their selective place in rankings.
This time of year we hear stories of young people who have overcome great odds to cross the stage. Often times, no one really knows of those stories until years later. Stories of parents who were absent, parents who died, sicknesses which kept them from crossing the stage with their classmates, young people who were homeless and hungry. Stories that may still not be known. As I get to know my children’s friends I always ask “So, what’s THEIR story?” I’m so sincere in my curiosity. I can almost see it in the young person’s eyes that there’s something there.
Last year I noticed a young man who I learned had no plans after high school. I saw incredible potential but also knew he had never received any support his entire life. As he prepared to graduate, I reached out. I told him about what I did and I’d like to work with him for free. I explained to him the value of assessments. I saw something special in him and wanted to help. His response was “The only higher learning that’s in my future is the School of Hard Knocks.” It’s a statement that will stay with me the rest of my life, I promise. He declined my offer. No one had believed in him and hence, he didn’t know his value, whatever that may be. I’m afraid this is not a unique story.
This year I was honored to be the guest speaker at a theater banquet for a local high school. A group of about 125 students and parents, dressed to the “nines” in beautiful attire, came to celebrate not only the accomplishments of the 2015-2016 year but the friendships developed over the course of four years. My message to them included that they had developed some of THE most sought after skills young people their age need and they didn’t even know it. Theater requires one to be pushed out of their comfort zone, accept criticism, learn how to be a powerful communicator, master how to win gracefully and lose honorably, make mistakes and act as if nothing happened, and especially not allowing it to define them. And lastly, being respectful of others whether they are just like them or completely opposite. These are the soft skills employers say are missing in our youth.
This graduation year has, even more, meaning for me. After all the time I’ve worked with college students, parents and families to help young adults prepare for life after they walk across the stage, I’m “walking the walk” myself as I have a senior preparing to cross the stage. I know her story. Her story is one where we as parents tried REALLY hard to not scar her for life! We often joked when an “event” occurred in her life that she needed to “jot that down” so she would remember to share with her therapist. By no means have we always done it right. What we know for sure is, she knows we are proud of her, we believe in her ability to do whatever she sets her mind to, it’s her journey and the chapter in her “life book” is hers to write.
My wish is that every person who is crossing a stage this year knows their worth, they are open to finding their purpose and they understand their story is THEIRS to write. No one else’s.
Cue the pomp and circumstance!