Vote of confidence may be greatest gift

Posted June 12, 2009, at 8:16 p.m.

Money may be great, but it is destined to be spent. Gift certificates pretty much meet the same fate. Even a nice lamp to furnish the college dorm room, or a cutting-edge technological gadget, becomes rather forgettable after a while. So, what can you give to a high school graduate that will have more intrinsic and lasting value?

As sometimes happens, the answer to a puzzling question arrived in the form of an inventive request. In this case, it came when the parents of a new high school graduate asked all guests at the graduation party to arrive with words of wisdom that had served them well throughout their own lives, and to present those words to their graduating daughter.

The request and the occasion seem to call for sage advice that will help this young graduate to succeed in life. At first glance, that seems easy enough. But when one sits down to provide success-oriented advice, it becomes time to think about the nature of success itself. If it were measured in terms of material gain alone, most of us would imitate the fellow who, in the film “The Graduate,” pointed out “Plastics” to Dustin Hoffman’s character. We would all seek to deliver a one-word whisper that would tip off the graduate to some sort of wealth-producing pursuit. But these days, such tips seem less reliable, as the only thing certain about financial success seems to be its uncertainty.

Even if we lived in a more affluent time, when such tips were tops, I know I would prefer to give one beloved graduate a few words that would sustain her through good times and lean periods, through glee and sorrow, through confident stretches and moments of doubt alike. And so, I thought about the words that sustained me through my own life and career, given to me by my writing teacher as I graduated from high school: “Write what you know. Keep writing. When you are too close to your emotions, seek tranquility. Then use those remembered emotions to great advantage. Trust in yourself.”

As it turns out, the young woman for whom I must prepare some words of wisdom is a wonderful writer, but she possesses considerable talent for the sciences, too. And so the words of wisdom that guided me must be fine-tuned to apply to her. “Use what you already know as a basis for all endeavors. Persevere. When an emotional storm sweeps over you, know that you can use what you learn from it. Trust in yourself.”

I would spell out one more thing, which my teacher said to me only with his eyes. “I will always believe in you.”

This vote of confidence may be the most important of all because, when believing in oneself is hard to do, there’s nothing more steadying than knowing someone’s there bearing unfaltering faith in you. With that certainty, you can weather any difficulty. And with that knowledge, you can shine more brightly in every sparkling moment.

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