Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Man Cave: Top 10 Things I Want My Graduating Senior To Know

It's that graduation time of year. High school seniors across the country are celebrating their accomplishment by donning funky hats and gathering in gyms, arenas, and stadiums to listen to speeches prepared by their fellow classmates. This year, my daughter Jessica is among them. The speeches she will hear at her commencement ceremony will be full of bright-eyed optimism and youthful exuberance, and that's great, but before she goes out into the world there are a few things I want her to hear from me too. You could call this my commencement address to the Cheney Class of 2011.

Jessica, you have the whole world before you. Your slate as an adult is blank, and you can write on it whatever you wish. As you begin your life story, be aware of one of life's greatest ironies: that the choices you make in these next few years, while you are still relatively inexperienced, will have a longer effect on your life than any others.

Make good choices.

Your life will become the sum total of your choices, for better or worse. I've done my best to teach you how to make good choices, and you've already made me proud, but as your father I can't help but give you my best advice one more time. Your life will better if you:

10. Learn to meet people and make friends. There is an old saying in the music business: It's not what you know, it's who you know. You will soon learn that this saying doesn't just apply to the world of music. The opportunities that come your way will happen through the people that populate your life. Gather as many around you as you can. I'm not talking about "networking". "Networking" is a silly buzzword that implies an ulterior motive. I'm talking about befriending good people and creating lasting relationships with them. Help them accomplish their goals, and find the things they want in their lives, and your life will be enriched because of it.

9. Work hard. Engaging yourself in productive work is still the best way I know to get the things you want from life. Hard work gives you purpose. It brings you a sense of fulfillment that can be found no other way. It bolsters your sense of self-worth and can even bring you peace when you are troubled. I'm not just talking about careers outside the home. Parenting and volunteering are also productive work. Whatever it is you decide to do, be passionate about it. When you have passion, people are attracted to you. Don't just labor blindly; work smart. Watch for paths of progress, and when they reveal themselves take advantage of them.

8. Continue to learn. Gain as much knowledge as you can. The world is changing at a faster pace than ever before. Adapt and overcome obstacles in your path by adopting an attitude of constant learning. Make it a habit. Knowledge will illuminate dark rooms, and open locked doors. It will make you a more articulate communicator, and a more persuasive negotiator. It will make you a more effective mother.

7. Live a principle-centered life. Don't alter your ideals to suit friends, trends, or fashion. Develop moral courage by standing true to the things you believe in, even in the face of ridicule and scorn. Be honest in all your dealings. Treat people with dignity and respect, and expect nothing less in return. Serve others. Practice integrity. People are attracted to these qualities.

6. Become a giant. When you were a child adults were bigger than you. You looked up to them, literally and figuratively. They had dominion over you. They were giants. You are no longer a kid; adults are now your peers. Walk among them as a giant yourself; an equal. From now on no one has dominion over you. Don't be intimidated by strong personalities, or discouraged by miserable souls that revel in squashing ambition. You do not answer to them. You are worth as much and have as much right to succeed and be happy as anyone else. Build your life; chart your course. Own your actions and their consequences.

5. Take risks. Don't be cavalier, but don't be too timid either. Calculated risks are essential to your growth and success. Go beyond your comfort zone. Don't fear failure or ridicule; instead fear complacency. Ignore any feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness, and be tenacious. Set and pursue goals. Write them down and refer to them often, and you will find ways to accomplish the things you want. Lastly, don't wait to start...time is too precious.

4. Never sacrifice happiness for pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting, but happiness is enduring. It is ironic that to experience the latter one must often give up the former. Live the principal of delayed gratification. Save for something instead of buying it on credit. Exercise every day instead of watching too much television. Eat vegetables instead of potato chips. vegetables. Patient, unwavering effort is the doorway through which life's most enduring joys are found: health, love, friendship, purpose.

3. Never surrender the power to make your own choices. There are many things in this world that can diminish your ability to make your own choices if you let them, including peers, hobbies, food, alcohol, drugs, or debt. Oppressive governments, businesses, and religions can also be included in this list. You must vigorously defend your ability to chart your own course through life. Practice moderation. Be thoughtful about which causes or institutions you support. Be mindful of the consequences of your actions. The happiest people I know are those who, through their vigilance, have preserved their freedom to choose, and the most miserable are those who have become enslaved through apathy or unchecked appetites.

2. Practice fiscal patience. Save. Stay out of debt. Invest early. Understand how compound interest works. Over time it can make you rich or financially suffocate you. An education, a home, and perhaps a business venture are about the only things I can think of worth going into debt for. Cars, boats, hobbies, and entertainment are most definitely not. Live frugally. Strive for self-sufficiency. When you are in debt or depend on others for your sustenance you give away part of your freedom. Realize that all the possessions your Mother and I own were accumulated over a lifetime. You don't need them all at once, right now. They will come in their own due time.

1. Choose your spouse carefully. The person you pick to spend your life with will have a greater effect on your happiness than just about any other choice you make. Remember that just like our possessions, the relationship your Mother and I have has been accumulated piece by piece over our lifetime. Just as we have done, you and your spouse will have to build your life together one challenge, one triumph, one tragedy, and one joy at a time. If you dedicate yourself to that person above all else you will eventually accumulate the lifetime's worth of experiences that make for the deepest kind of love.

Now go out into the world Jessica, and make it a better place for you having been here. Make yours a well-lived life.



  1. This is Jessi --

    This is all great information and even though I've been hearing it my entire life it's still good to hear it once more, now that I am about to move out and leave for college. I won't let you down! Promise.

  2. These are all good pieces of advice. Choose your life and then love your choices:) It is all in your choices. The best piece of advice for me was the Become A Giant. I am 30 and that is still difficult for me sometimes. It will benefit you much to not be intimidated by others. I am really just now starting to gain this characteristic. Aaron is right you have as much right as anyone else to have an opinion, a say and a chance for success. Life is hard sometimes but I have faith in you Jessi!! You will do just fine!:)