Commencement Address

This post was inspired by the following question via The New York Times Edit Newsletter: If you were giving a commencement speech, what would you say? Here’s my address to the Class of 2018.


I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to address you for weeks now. I’ve never given a commencement speech so I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to leave you with words that would inspire you years from now. Like an Oprah or an Ava Duvernay or my favorite First Lady, Michelle Obama. But, I’m not them. So, I’m gonna bring you into my world for a few minutes. Let’s talk.

Lesson 1: Be authentically you (and proud of it.)

It seems like everyone is saying that these days. But, what does it mean? To me, it is the courage to stay true to your spirit or character. In every circumstance. Whatever that looks like for you, embrace that. Fully. If you are creative, be creative. If you are quirky, be quirky. If you are loud, be loud. (When necessary) If you are passionate channel that energy positively. If you are black, white, gay, straight, or just different, be that. Unapologetically. As long as it doesn’t tear down another person in the process. The saying goes, think outside the box. I say, forget that. Create your own. You owe it to yourself to put the best version of you out into the world. Authenticity > Perfection.

Lesson 2: Your words matter.

Our words have creative power. They were designed that way. Choose your words wisely. That goes for any and everywhere you find yourself. In your relationships with family and friends, on your job, behind your computer screen. Think before you send that tweet or post that comment. It costs something and you might not like the price afterward.

I’ll take it a step further, watch the words you speak to yourself. In the quietness of your own mind and private spaces. Yeah, those words matter too. Don’t expect the world to validate you if you haven’t made a habit of positively speaking over yourself first. Otherwise, you’ll be chasing unrealistic expectations all your life.

Think of it this way. You can either change your world or destroy it by what comes out of your mouth. As often as you can, speak life. Your words matter.

Lesson 3: Your choices matter

Young adulthood is for sure a time of exploration and discovery, but remember this, your choices matter.

Have fun, get to know yourself and others, but balance. Use this time to build. You will make mistakes, and even a few dumb decisions. I’ve made plenty. From overspending on clothes to staying up all night with 8 am classes the next day. That’s expected. But, try to stay on the straight and narrow. Don’t go so far off the grid that you’re still paying for decisions you made in your teens and 20’s twenty years later. Before making a decision ask yourself two questions: Will I regret this later? And, Am I willing to serve this choice full out? Meaning after the decision is made, am I prepared to deal with EVERYTHING that comes with it. Even the things I don’t know are attached yet, because they are both visible and hidden consequences in every decision. If not, don’t do it.

We can’t control everything that happens to us, but some of it is not random or left field. Some of it is us serving our choices. The good news, is that at any given moment you can choose to go in a better direction. Everybody wants to live their “best lives” these days. Choose wisely and build it. One choice at a time.

Lesson 4: Life doesn’t owe you anything (Be proactive)

If there’s one thing adulthood has taught me thus far, it’s that if you want something, you have to go get it. Period. From this point on, don’t wait for the world to hand you anything (because they won’t.) In college, the teachers won’t ask you if you’ve done your homework or papers. They expect that when a quiz or test comes that you’re prepared because you have. On your job, your boss won’t stay on you to get your work done or even show up. If you’re like the rest of us with bills and other responsibilities, you will.

If you need something, ask. There’s help available. Whatever dream you have, actively participate in making it a reality. Don’t slack. Don’t drag your feet, don’t wait for validation or recognition. If you do, you’ll be waiting forever. As they say, closed mouths don’t get fed. Be proactive.

Lesson 5: You are a work in progress (and that’s ok)

Today you feel like you’re unstoppable (as you should.) A few months or maybe even a year from now new realities will begin forming, For some of you, that means continuing your education or getting a job. Others will be taking time off to figure things out. Know that it’s all ok. Don’t run out of here thinking you’ll live out the college life or the young adulthood that you’ve seen on tv and read about on the internet all these years. That’s a set up for disappointment. The real world can be a scary place, adult life is hard. A lot of it is learn as you go. Trial and error. Also, don’t beat yourself up over what you don’t know. Just be open to learning from others, asking questions and for help if and when you need it. That’s what it’s there for.

I wish I could say my life is as perfect as my Instagram page. (It’s not) I don’t believe anyone’s is. Don’t get caught in the comparison trap. It’s pointless and just brings you down. Just remember that you are a work in progress and so is everyone around you. Nobody’s perfect. As long as you know that and consistently work to be better, you’re ok. Celebrate your wins, acknowledge your losses, appreciate the progress and keep playing.

I hope you learned something today. I hope you were encouraged. It wasn’t Oprah or Ava, but it was honest. Congratulations again to the Class of 2018. I can’t wait to see what you bring to the world.

Jasmine Barnes


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