2016: A Commencement Address

This year was the first birthday I felt old. Twenty-three is not that old, sure, but there’s something symbolic about it to me for reasons I can’t explain. Maybe it’s just growing up American, it’s imprinted in my mind as the real start of adulthood. Post-student adulthood. At 16 you can drive, at 18 you’re legally a major, at 21 you can drink, 22 is the age you graduate college. Yes, not everyone goes to college, not everyone who goes to college goes to a 4-year college, not everyone graduates at 22 (some people graduate at 85, some people never graduate). But to me, 22 is the last trial year. The last year you can reasonably fuck this up and it’ll all be okay. At 23, for whatever reason, you start being an actual big kid.

And I feel like this year, I graduated from something. Not just in the sense that I have another expensive piece of paper to hang on my wall, I graduated from something real. I became an adult this year. It didn’t happen on my birthday. It didn’t happen on any particular day, it’s been a continuous process of feeling that the long beginning has ended. And while I hope for nothing more than constant new beginnings from here on out, I’m taking some time now to look back on what I graduated from.

2016, the year of Trump, Brexit, Aleppo, and a thousand deaths, famous and unknown, is finally coming to an end. 2017 is going to be difficult and painful, but I’ve got a fire to light the way through this time, I hope.

Here’s what this year’s taught me:

  1. Everything is some kind of choice, even if all of the options are awful.
  2. Stop looking for the final meaning of your life. It means exactly and only what you decide it does in each moment, and that’s as meaningful as any meaning ever can be.
  3. That goes for you too. You’re free to recreate yourself in every moment.
  4. You will never be able to control what other people think of you, so fuck trying.
  5. Not every rule deserves your obedience.
  6. Get as comfortable breaking the rules as you are following them. A lot more of your life is habit than you’d like to imagine.
  7. The most important question you can ask yourself is Why.
  8. If you want to live consciously, start simple. Take on the whole world from day one and it will all slip through your fingers until you’re left holding nothing.
  9. People will always surprise you, for good and for ill.
  10. Making assumptions about someone removes their agency, and is a small violence.
  11. Your unique, limited, transient self already is one with the whole universe.
  12. You start living in harmony with that oneness when you give up the delusion that you were ever doing anything else.
  13. Everything you feel is allowed.
  14. You can’t teach someone by hitting them over the head. No matter how obvious the right answer may be to you, it may not be so to someone else. And you may not have the right language to explain it to them.
  15. You can’t be someone’s doctor without their consent. Don’t try to fix people. If you think you know how to, you’re probably wrong.
  16. This whole utopia thing, this evolution revolution thing, it’s an uphill battle. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s going to take some time.
  17. Living with love means you sometimes have to throw a few punches. “There is such a thing as a nonviolent fist.”
  18. Tear down the cruel as you build up the beautiful. It will come faster from both sides, and we’ve been out of time for a while.
  19. Stop waiting for the world to catch up to you. Live your utopia now, as best you can.
  20. But also keep working on the world, because it won’t catch up without you.
  21. Trust what feels right.
  22. There are no saviors. No one is outside the loop. We liberate ourselves, we liberate each other, the oppressor and oppressed within each of us. We build a better world ourselves, together.
  23. You are you, you are me, you and all of us are one. When you serve your needs, you serve us all. The question is figuring out what your needs are.
  24. Equality means you give up your privilege. If you’re only up because someone is down, don’t kid yourself you can make it right without giving up the comforts you’re accustomed to.
  25. Fear is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It probably means the opposite.
  26. When we can love without trying to control, enjoy without trying to possess, speak without seeking to coerce, find freedom without imprisoning others, climb without pushing others down, in short – when we can learn to live ourselves without needing that self to be defined in contrast to anything, we’re doing this evolving thing right.

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