Dear Class of 2018:
I want to congratulate you on all the hard work you put into making the dream of graduating, a reality. I also would like to extend special congratulations to you if you’re the first in your family to graduate from high school. You turned a road less traveled into a path I am sure others in your lives are now more inspired to walk down because you did first. Be so very proud of yourselves; I know your families, teachers, and communities all are.
A little bit about me — I was the first one in my family to graduate from high school.
I was raised by a single-mother in poverty, my father passed away when I was four, and we were homeless at times. My mom taught me that despite your circumstances you can be, do and have anything you put your mind to.
So after high school I became a poet — for a living. I believed her so much that after graduating from Kamiakin High School in 1998, I’ve written four books, shared my stories and recited my poems everywhere from the Parthenon in Athens to the Pyramids in Veracruz, Mexico. I’ve met celebrity heroes like Saul Williams and Ijeoma Oluo, I’ve created community programs that help youths find their voices, and last week I had to buy new luggage because my poetry travels are picking up — or should I say my dreams are becoming more real and true.
Right after I bought my new suit case, the Tri-City Herald reached out and asked if I would offer 2018’s graduating class words of wisdom as you all embark on your quests for greater worlds and brighter futures. Talk about kismet, this year is my 20-year high school reunion, so I’ve been reflecting on all of the valuable lessons that I’ve learned in these last two decades, and the following advice is what I believe helped me achieve my version of success in life.
Don’t give up. Period.
The obstacle is the path. Know this, every time you overcome an obstacle you will gain a new ability. The more abilities you gain the more able you are to be you. The more that you get to be who you truly are meant to be in this life IS the ultimate freedom and success that you are after. Make no mistake about it, you are setting out to find out who you truly are in life. Don’t give up; you will come full circle.
This doesn’t mean don’t share or don’t give to those in need — that is a duty you must always fulfill when you can. I am talking about being positively selfish about your goals, dreams, and ambitions in life. Listen to YOUR heart, if something feels right to YOU and YOU feel even a little warmth from the spark of self-belief, blow on it until YOUR dream is a bonfire! Do you.
When you’re drifting off to sleep at night, what do you see in your mind’s eye? I used to visualize myself speaking in front of thousands of people all around the country and the world. Literally, the last few Facebook and Instagram posts I’ve published have been photos of me speaking in assemblies just like the ones I used to visualize! See the invisible and work hard until it is visible to others.
This is by far the most valuable lesson I have learned. When you’re a kid you’re asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Once you grow up and become more aware of the world around you, you should ask yourself “What problems do I want to help solve?”
I have been turning my poetry career into a bit of a philanthropy lately. If you achieve any level of success that you are happy with, you soon will find that your ultimate happiness is tied to the happiness of others. “Community is an extension of self” is a mantra some mentees of mine and I came up with a few years ago. It has served as a guiding mantra in my life and I hope that this short letter will serve you on your journey.
Metaphors be with you,