A friend recently shared this commencement speech with me. It was moving in many ways. I am proud and honored to be embarking on this new journey that will be, above all, challenging my mind with new information. I respect myself enough to continue my self-improvement and to keep growing mentally. I thirst for all that knowledge.
What are days like today really about?
We live our lives, we try to be decent and honorable under difficult circumstances,
we get up each morning knowing that the road ahead isn’t easy,
that the shadows may be filled with uncertainty – days and days go by like this.
Until they become years.
And you wonder where the time went – you ask yourself, what was important in all that
What did I do that was good and right?
When did I get recognized for my struggle?
When was my worth as a human being celebrated?
When did I count? When did I matter?
Yes, time rushes by and sometimes it a blur with no definition, no pattern, no signs of
progress and evolution.
But there are times in life, when the moment actually slows down and the mind is
allowed to stop.
It’s those times when you come to a crossroads and you’re allowed to look around and
take stock of where you’ve been and how you got there.
These moments take you to the threshold of a new reality – a new reality defined by new
possibilities in your life.
These moments often come unexpectedly — and they could be anything.
They could be the first time you wrote you name on a piece of paper.
Or the first time you road a bicycle.
Or the first time you understood something about God.
Or the first time you knew that someone really loved you.
Or the first time you moved to a new city.
Or the first time you signed a lease on your own apartment.
Or the first job.
Or the first time you did something you never expected to do.
Birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, marriages, divorces, funerals – these are all threshold
moments, the crucial coming-of-age events, that define who you are at a particular time and place.
The moments that make you, you.
Moments when time stops and you look around and you understand who you are and
where you might be going.
A graduation – whether its kindergarten or a PhD – is one of the most important coming-
of-age moments in a person’s life.
When you can stop and breathe and look around and take stock of where you’ve been,
how you got there, and where you are about to go.
Now, what exactly is a graduation?
Why is it to important?
Thousands of people graduate from school every year in the United States.
Why should we care?
To understand graduations, it’s important to understand the long road that lead to this
You are here today because you decided to take care of something.
You decided to take care of your mind.
It sounds so obvious – that we need to take care of our minds.
But most people are so busy taking care of their bodies, their bank accounts, their lovers,
their homes, their enthusiasm for sports and video games, the silly melodramas of daily
life – that too many times the mind is the last thing they think about.
The mind is so often taken for granted.
People figure, well as long as I’m not losing my mind, then I’m doing okay!
Well, the good news is, you’re not like most people.
We’re here today because none of you would put your mind last.
Each of you knew that you needed to feed your mind,
to allow it to grow,
to fertilize it with new ideas and discoveries,
to take the raw material you were given at birth and grow beautiful new ideas there,
to bring the outside world in the form of books and ideas and lectures and conversations
and quiet meditation into the deep places in your mind where your dreams are born.
And this is so important to do because your mind is so many things.
First, your mind is a cathedral.
It’s here, in your mind, where you first understand the meaning of transcendence and ask
yourself – what is bigger than me?
Who made me and the world?
Where do I come from?
What does all this mean?
What does it mean that I’m here in this world right now?
What’s my purpose in life?
Why was I born a person and not a butterfly?
Is anyone out there watching me?
What is good and why should I do good?
Where does goodness and honor and beauty and truth and love come from?
Who set the stars in motion and created this beautiful world of perfect biological balance?
When I die, where do I go?
Why do I feel connected to other living things?
Why do I feel that love is the most important and powerful force in the world?
When I close my eyes and try to listen for the sounds in my soul, what will I hear?
Second, your mind is a laboratory.
It’s not very large – the brain that houses our minds.
In terms of weight, it only takes up about 2% of our body weight. It’s about 78% water.
Yet it has 100 billion neurons.
By comparison a leech only has 350 neurons.
350 for a leech – a 100 billion for us!
So it’s not very big, it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and it’s mostly just unattractive
mushy grey water.
But – what an incredible laboratory it is.
It’s in the mind where you test life.
Where you observe what is going on around you and you process those events and facts
in the folds and chambers of the mind and you write your own definition of reality.
And it does that at the speed of light.
Trillions and trillions of times a day.
The mind is the laboratory where you try on different identities.
Am I powerful? Am I weak? Am I a teacher? Am I warrior? Am I a poet? Am I a
It’s the laboratory where you test yourself.
How much can I learn?
How much strength do I have for the difficult job of just living life?
Where is my courage?
Where is my deepest fear?
Where is my longing?
What do I value most in the world?
What makes me happy?
What dreams make me smile?
What do I love in other people?
What do I understand of others?
Third, the mind is an entire world.
Close your eyes and you can image Paris, though you may have never been there.
Close your eyes and you can see deserts, the streets of Detroit, the Grand Canyon, the
White House, the inside of the atom, the far side of the moon.
The mind is an atlas of the whole world and at the speed of thought – far faster than the
speed of light – you can take yourself to any place your imagination can conjure.
You can create worlds that never existed.
You can see people and animals that have never lived.
Further, you can imagine yourself at any period in time.
You can see yourself marching in Alabama for Civil Rights, or dancing at the Hollywood
party with Denzel Washington, or sitting in Shakespeare’s theatre to see Romeo and
Juliet for the first time, or wrestling dinosaurs, or studying with Confucius.
No place or time is forbidden to you because you carry with you at all times the most
powerful passport on earth – the human mind.
Fourth, the mind is a storm.
Yes, there are times when the mind is uneasy.
When it doesn’t sit still.
When it’s full of noise and fury.
There are demons in the mind as well as angels.
There are times when the mind betrays you.
When it breaks under stress and you can’t control the storm of thoughts.
Times when all it sees is darkness and sorrow and fierce violence.
The mind, like any part of the body, will be injured and suffer terrible pain.
The mind cries out for peace and safety – and asks you to find a way to heal its injury and
calm the storm and bring peace.
No, the mind is vulnerable and needs to be taken care of, it needs nutrition and fertilizer,
it needs words and books and pictures and experiences to make it work as fully and
beautifully as it can.
Fifth, the mind is the birthplace of dreams.
You hear kids say it all the time – I want to be an astronaut.
I want to be a ballerina.
I want to be a baseball player.
I want to be king of the world.
That’s because a fertile mind is restless and it takes what it sees in the world and invents
possibilities for us.
We want to literally fly with the wings of eagles.
We want to sing in the sweetest voice the world has ever heard.
It’s the mind where your greatest ideas about yourself are born.
Finally, there are those who believe that the mind is God.
When Michaelangelo painted the Sistene Chapel he painted the creation of the world.
In his painting, God leans out of a great cloud to touch the fingertips of Adam.
The cloud that God lives in is painted in the shape of a brain.
Look at it. I’m not kidding. It’s a brain!
Michaelangelo equated God with the mind.
God is brain. God is idea. God is thinking.
Cathedral, laboratory, birthplace of storms and dreams, and God himself – the mind is all
this and much more.
So lets go back to my original question: what is a graduation and why do we care?
We care because this is the moment when we celebrate your accomplishments today, we
celebrate your respect for the most important thing we own,
the organ in our body that is closest to the spirit of Creation, to the source of our identity
and wisdom and power – the mind.
You said to yourself: I was born with this mushy grey mind and I could either use it or
I could be content, like a leech, to use only 350 brain cells every day, or I could be fully
and beautifully human and engage all 100 billion little brain cells.
I could either let them all sit dark in the cave of my skull or I could light them all like the
brightest Christmas tree.
I could be happy with the routine thoughts that come so easily for me
– with the habits I acquired over the years
– the habits that make me sleepwalk through life
– never questioning, never engaging, just being content to passively feed my stomach and
– to react only with my emotions and passions
– or I could push my own boundaries,
I could ask the right questions,
I could seek knowledge from others,
I could be unsatisfied with easy answers,
I could test my limits, I could strive for true wisdom and enlightenment.
So well done, you guys.
You made the right choice.
Every single one of you.
You wouldn’t be satisfied with what you were given and you made something better.
You worked hard, under difficult and dark circumstances – honestly, my friends, I can’t
image – and you wouldn’t give up,
you wouldn’t say no,
you wouldn’t take the easy way out,
you wouldn’t ignore the needs of your soul or the imperatives of your mind or the
questions in your heart,
you told everyone around you that you value thinking,
None of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
But today we know that we walked through a threshold and we took this ritual seriously
because it demands to be taken seriously, because we take our sacred minds, our
education, and our worth as human beings seriously.
Congratulations and good luck.