In the closing scene of American Pie the 4 friends are talking about the end of highschool, reflecting on what it means, and they toast “to the next step.” It is in that spirit of cameraderie and thoughtful reflection on years of debauchery that I toast to you, my graduating friends, who are once again taking the next step.
I recently spent the weekend in Berkeley celebrating graduations with you all. There was a moment at Gee’s graduation party when all the graduates were giving speeches. One even cried. Someone told me a few days earlier that there are two times in your life where you are most likely to be depressed when everyone thinks you shoudl be elated: after college graduation, and after the birth of a child. As I spent the weekend at graduation after graduation, celebrating and drinkin and dancing, that irony – that we should be sad at such a happy time – kept knocking around inside my head.
I think part of it must be that college graduation leaves us feeling unfulfilled. Highschool, which in comparison to college seems like a cake walk, was preceded by so much fanfare, by so much anticipation, and is followed by parties, by a summer filled with revelry and anticipation of “the next step,” and by a certainty that you know where you’re headed. But college graduation is brief – it comes on suddenly, it happens in a flash and then it’s gone, and when finals end we all scatter, or stay a few days and try to hold onto the glory as our friends slowly trickle away, through our fingers, headed home, headed towards their own futures, and sometimes headed out of our lives. And then many of us are faced with the uncertainty of not knowing what the next step is. Many are faced with the prospect of graduating without a job or a graduate program or a plan to jump into. Many are faced with looming collage loans, an ever-increaing cost-of-living, and the prospect of moving back in with our parents. But fear not, fair traveller, for hope is just beyond the horizon. It takes a year, but we all eventually find out feet, our passion, and take that next step. For more than a few of us, it takes a year before the next step emerges.
Long plane rides have always been a time for reflection for me. An inflection point where you can look back on the life you checked-in with your luggage and that will be waiting for you when you land on the other side. President Bartlett on the West Wing once said that long flights are good “because we cease to be earthbound and burdened with practicality.” I remember a flight I took 3 years ago – to Denver perhaps – where my fellow traveller asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated. I said “I want to be in marketing.” He responded “that’s not good enough. Be specific.” I pondered this, then replied “I want to work in Marketing for Microsoft of Procter & Gamble. Microsoft because it would be great as an innovator and a place where I could be creative, P&G because they know marketing better than anyone.” I had set a goal. Two years ago, after having graduated and gotten that job at Microsoft, I was on another flight – this time to Indonesia – and reflecting on the year in between. I had achieved what I set out to – I had joined Microsoft – but the role I had was not something where I was making a difference. Even six months into this job, I was still searching for my passion.
And now I’m another flight, back from Berkeley after spending the week with all of you. Since that second flight another 18 months have passed. In that time, I switched jobs within Microsoft and found a role that I could become fully invested in. Something that I was good at, where I could make a difference, and finally own my own destiny. It took me exactly a year after starting to get that job, and in the year since I have done amazing things, learned a tremendous ammount, and found my passion. So now, fair traveller, as you too graduate, have faith that you will find your passion, find your feet, and then start running.