Inspired by his essays in Walden, here is what I imagine Henry David Thoreau would say if he gave a commencement speech at my high school graduation:
Good evening students, faculty, and board members,
We are all present tonight with a feeling of ambition as we begin a new chapter in our lives marked by a tone of accomplishment from the last. We stand as a product and combination of one another. Having developed an openness and understanding of one another, we live as a community that is self-defined and loving. Having solved the many mysteries of high school- the shortest way to get to class, adequate walking speed in the hallways, how to survive exam week, who to sit with at lunch- we are now ready to move on to the next chapter of our lives. Trained with an understanding of how society works and our place within it, we accept the challenge of adulthood. However, one key aspect remains unsolved; we are all still an enigma to ourselves.
I have fostered a successful life of self-realization away from society from my time at Walden Pond. I advise, you must stray from the well worn path to find yourself. Don’t have second thoughts. Even if this means you must forge your own trail, take the opportunity to pioneer one of hope and faith for others. Realistically, life will fly by too quickly to determine your worth by light shined upon you by others who are absorbed in this relentless race; instead, you have to find a way to create your own light.
You must learn to relish in the small moments of life. Think back to your favorite memory in high school, a moment when for even just a brief instant you felt the very rare feeling of utter joy. You will often find that this moment was a small moment, whose brevity offered you a short yet sweet satisfaction amongst the common routine. As I instructed in my conclusion of Walden, “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours” (253). Take a moment in silence. Close your eyes and feel present in this moment. Cherish your feelings and the awareness you have right now. I challenge you: open your eyes but never lose this feeling. Hold on to it. Keep it with you for the rest of the ceremony, for the rest of the week, for the rest of the month, for the rest of the year, for the rest of the decade, for the rest of your life.
Most people go by the logic, “If you can see it, you can believe it.” But that is where they are wrong. Your mind creates this world. Look around. Everything in this room was created by an idea that began in the mind of a human. Solve your enigma of self-realization by harnessing your will. It i one of the hardest tasks to accomplish is to diminish the willpower of a human. If you can believe it, you can see it.