I had the honor of delivering the commencement speech at the Kachemak Bay campus of the University of Alaska this week.
I thought a lot about what to say to the graduates and their friends and families. My own daughter is graduating from high school this month. I wondered what I'd want a stranger to say to her. I read all sorts of speeches given to people wearing caps and gowns. One caught my eye.
Last spring, George Saunders, a writer and professor, spoke to the graduates of Syracuse University. For all his regrets, and he had a list, he said, what he would have changed in his life was seizing more opportunities to live kindness. After many years he still remembered a specific instance when, as a young boy, he had missed a chance to be kind.
His speech went viral on the internet.
The question stuck in my brain like a Neil Diamond song. (Specifically "Sweet Caroline...ooh, ooh, ooh...")
And why did Saunders' message take the world by surprise? He only told the graduates what we all learned in Mrs. Chesser's kindergarten class. Okay, maybe you weren't in Mrs. Chesser's class -- there were only 10 of us -- but you had your own. In some ways his speech was a throwback to the "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten" books that seem to be present at every yard sale.
Selfishness seems to be a facet of human nature. Maybe it's a survival skill. Children start out selfish and learn to be kind -- or not. (That may explain the woman who gave me a one-finger salute after cutting me off in traffic this week.)
I'd go further than Saunders. Be kind to yourself. Unless you're a narcissist, it's harder than you might think.
I'm not sure how your brain works, but mine tends to record the crueler moments and words and add them to the iShan playlist. Figuring out a way to delete those nasty words and replace them with kindness is worth the trouble.
Give yourself second chances -- other people will -- they need them too. Create a private reserve of yourself, the part of you that is not public, consider it sacred and only share it with those who have proven themselves worthy. When you are kind to yourself, you are teaching the world how to treat you.
When Mother Teresa died, people all over the world paid tribute to her. Among them were a group of Rotarians. At a Rotary meeting, one member read quotes from her while others stood. One of those present was Kent Keith. As he listened, Keith realized the words he was hearing were his own, written 30 years earlier when he was 19 and a sophomore at Harvard. The world's most revered nun had inscribed them on the wall of a Calcutta orphanage where she worked. They had been mistakenly attributed to her in a biography. Here they are:
The Paradoxical Commandments
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.
Congratulations, graduates, my own included.
Do good anyway.
Shannyn Moore is an ADN columnist & 95.5 FM 1080 AM KOAN talk show host