WW: Making a life instead of existing

When my niece was a baby, she never had matching socks. We always chuckled at this and quipped that her mother should buy one type of sock for the baby so that they always match. What’s so hard about finding matching socks for the kid?

Well, now I get it.

And what’s worse is that I can’t even match mine.

My sister in law, Summer, was a teen mom. She was just shy of her 16th birthday when she gave birth to her daughter, Cassie. Summer and I are the same age - so the whole experience was a little bewildering to me. Can you imagine what it was like for her? As I was picking out elective classes for my Junior year of high school, Summer was picking out baby clothes and wondering if she’d get back to school at all. But Summer seemed to adjust well to motherhood despite the challenges. Of course, it was a struggle for both families but it all seemed to work out in the end. Eventually Summer completed high school, she and my brother married, bought a house and had another child, Mason. Sadly, all the challenges took their toll and they eventually divorced. But since then Summer has found new love and had another child but she is still very much a part of my extended family.

For all the hiccups and road blocks they’ve had along the way, Summer has done a great job raising her kids. One of her accomplishments that I am most proud of her for is letting her children learn from her past. She and Cassie often talked about being a teen mom and why its important to finish high school and go to college. Cassie and I have spoken about it as well and its apparent that she has heeded her mother’s warnings. If you look past the giggling and silliness of being a teenager, Cassie seems to have a good head on her shoulders. She tells me about all the big things she wants to do with her life and places she wants to travel. There appears to be a wisdom there that I certainly don't recall having at seventeen. 

Now, Cassie is well on her way to achieving her goals. A few weeks ago she graduated from high school and in the Fall she will begin college. From the audience we proudly watched a promising future unfold before her. 

It’s hard to believe that this darling, little girl...
This is Cassie at my high school graduation.
Feel free to laugh at the 'roid addict with the braided rat tail and
acid washed jeans - I have no idea who that is.
has grown into this smart and beautiful young lady.

Cassie, I wanted to write a post to you about what to expect from life and the things that I hope you gain from it. But every time I started to type something out, not surprisingly, my words fell far short from the wonderful commencement speech that your Superintendent, Dr. Tony Marchio, presented to the class of 2011. Since I know that you were probably not paying attention to anything he was saying and instead thinking about what parties you were going to attend, I’ve decided to share his speech instead. Everything he said was everything I’d say to you if I were just a tad more eloquent. It’s what I wish someone had said to 17 year old me. They are words I wish I had heard long before the age of 33 but I will carry them with me from now on, none the less.

Today, class of 2011, you and I stand here connected in a very unique way.  We’re both about to begin a new stage of our lives but at opposite ends of the spectrum [Mr. Marchio is retiring]. I’m not quite sure where I am headed, but I do know where I have been and where you are headed and would like to offer you, if you will indulge me for a while, just a little advice.  I have delivered over a hundred commencement addresses during my tenure as a principal and a superintendent, and have relied on the words of some famous people to inspire students - Mahatma Gandhi, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau John F. Kennedy, Shakespeare and Confuses, just to name a few - but I’d like to skip the formalities and just give you some things to ponder right from my heart.
First, enjoy the evening.  Try as you might, the entire graduating class of 2011 will never be together again.  So live in the moment, look at each other real hard, and be aware of what is happening to your and go through life that same way. Live deliberately, always aware of the moment that you are in. 
Thank those around you who got you here. Include more “thank you’s” and “I’m sorry’s” in your vocabulary.   Hug your parents, relatives, neighbors, and anyone else who is here to help celebrate this night.  Even hug your brothers and sisters.  
If your grandparents are with you tonight, and they start to ramble on a little over the week end about their youth, take time to listen.  Maybe even write it down.  What I wouldn’t get to have a conversation with my grandparents again.
When you get to college, take time to really enjoy the ride.  Instead of trying to make the highest grades or get into the best fraternity or sorority, work real hard on making good, lasting friends.  Be generous - work in a homeless shelter or a children’s hospital. Take money you would have spent on beer and give it to charity. 
Work at a job about which you are passionate.  And vow to be the very best at it.  Follow your dreams.  Make a difference in this world and don’t get caught up in the rat race of work.  Remember if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.
And although you are passionate about your work, don’t make it your life.  The two are very different things.  Your work should only be one part of your life.  And remember the words that John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in New York, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”  So don’t just make a living - make a life.  
When you become a parent, become good it.  Spend time doing and listening and caring and loving.  There is no greater calling.  Take time to roll in the grass with the kids and not worry about the grass stains.  Cherish every moment.  Those little people will grow up and leave your side soon enough.  
Students, just do the right thing.  You’ll know it when you feel it.  Be kind to everyone, treat everyone you meet with respect and dignity, offer help when someone needs it, serve your community because you care, not because you will gain from it, and be honest and sincere with others and especially with yourself.  
It is so easy to waste your lives - your days, your hours, and your minutes.  It’s easy to take for granted the colors of those azaleas across from my office in Odessa, or the beach in Bethany, or the brick streets in old New Castle.  It is so easy to exist instead of live.  
So live a good life, students, and make the world a better place because you have been a part of it. I’m convinced that you will do that. You are an incredibly talented group of students.  And just like “The Wizard of Oz,” I think the answer to life has been with you all along . So when you put on one of those bright orange t-shirts that were for sale in your cafeteria, take the time to read the inscription on the back:  “The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create something that will.”

Thank you, class of 2011, and have a great life.  
 - Superintendent Tony Marchio 

Cassie, I am so proud of you. I know you will continue to be successful against all odds and I can’t wait to see how life turns out for you. Maybe you'll figure out the answer to the sock dilemma and that will be your fortune. Even if you don't it won't matter. :)

Summer, one down, two to go. :) Good job, momma.
Your mothering is Cassie Approved!