Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Letter to Our Youngest On The Occasion of His Graduation

Dave, this weekend you will join the ranks of a group of people that has associated with them more promise, more hope and more dreams than almost any other, a group known as college graduates. Unfortunately those futures come in equal amounts realized and dashed. It all begs the obvious question: what is it that makes one successful in work or play or any subset thereof?

The fact of the matter is that when people graduate there is no shortage of advice to help them succeed. The reason is simple: as of tomorrow you are completely and totally your own man. Regardless of what promises you make or break, what commitments you chose to take on or ignore, what responsibilities you decide to shoulder or shun, as of tomorrow there is no one to whom you have to justify anything, save one: yourself.

Now, I don't mean that to sound as lonely as it might. Your mother and I will still be here, your brother is but a phone call away and your many friends will be happy to offer counsel and guidance. But the truth is that none of us can tell you the right path. However, there is reason to be optimistic, and that's because you are remarkably well equipped to take up the challenge. Your studies are just part of that. Your other activities, both at school and beyond, all contribute to that preparation. I know that a lot has been written about how tough it is for young people today; it is. And while it's easy for me to say, I'm not worried. That's because I know you. I know what you are capable of. And I know that when your chance comes, and it will, you will embrace it and will wonder why you ever had concerns.

As a parent, we can only hope the world will be gentle with you; that is unlikely to be the case. And yet I am supremely confident that the odds are in your favor. That's because you already have the tools, the empathy, the skills you need in your head and in your heart to make your own call about anything that comes your way. If that is the standard to be met for success, I can say without equivocation that you stand head and shoulders above it.

I'll leave you with one thought, perhaps best told through an anecdote from a friend. When he was a good bit younger, my buddy was a follower of a well-known band. He had all their albums, saw them a few times in big stadiums with audiences numbering in the thousands. Fast forward to a few years ago. My pal walked into a small bar, and there, sitting on a tiny stage in the corner, was the lead guitarist from the band.  He played with gusto, and crowd applauded appreciatively. After it was over my friend went up to him. I was a huge fan, you were the best, he said. But he wondered: why are you playing in this hole-in-the-wall? The guitarist smiled. I never started playing to be a star, he said. I just brought everything I had whenever I got the chance. And these people here deserve my best just as much as an arena full of people. If I bring it all, and they appreciate it, then I'm a happy man regardless of the size of the audience.

So there it is: bring it all. Whatever you do, make sure that when it's over you don't walk away saying "I could have done better, I could have tried harder." If you can honestly say that you've done your best, the audience will appreciate it. And whether that audience is numbered in the thousands or you can count it on one hand, or even if that audience is just you, you can walk away proud of what you've done.

This is the fourth edition of this train of thought I've written: one each for you and your brother when you graduated high school, and one for him on his college graduation. And as I closed that note to him, I do the same for you. As you take this next giant step, we watch with joy, with sadness, with excitement and with wonder. We are thrilled for you and proud of you. Yes, it is trite, but it is true: parents should give their children roots and wings. Remember the first, make sure to use the second. And most importantly, know that wherever you fly, we love you.


Dave Wollin graduates this weekend from Colby College. You can send him greetings at His dad's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

No comments: