Guys, I'm Serious.

A Letter to the Class of 2017

It’s that time of year, kids. Caps, gowns. Parents frolicking about campus. In your apartments. Where you convince them that glass contraption shaped awfully similar to a bong is just abstract art. It’s a magical time. The end of an era. It’s a celebration of academia. A celebration marking the papers you’ve written at 3am, the exams you pulled all-nighters for, the presentations you Powerpointed your way through. A celebration of a milestone—an academic feat. You’ve done it. Four years later, you’ve done it.

So, we celebrate. We calculate the GPAs, we name a valedictorian, we wear cords to signify our academic prowess. We celebrate academia. We celebrate the mind. We celebrate intelligence and success with numbers and diplomas.

And that counts. It does. That matters.

But it’s not everything. Numbers, tests, grades. Caps, gowns, diplomas, degrees. They’re not everything.

Be proud of what you’ve done these four years. Be proud of every paper you’ve written, every test you’ve taken. Be proud of the classes you’ve passed, the hours you’ve studied, the degree you’ve achieved.

Take your diploma and hang that sucker on the damn wall because you earned that shit. You did.

Be proud of yourself. Be proud of your academic achievements. Because they matter.

But they’re not everything. Your grades, your degree, your GPA—they’re not everything.

What matters is the person you are—the person you’ve become. And that’s not limited to your academic accomplishments. That’s not limited to numbers, majors, or degrees. It’s not even close. You are not just a test-taker. You are not just a paper-writer. You are not just a presentation-giver. You are not just a GPA. You are not just a diploma. You are a person. When you look back on your four years, I pray to every deity above that you don’t lose your identity in a number. In a degree. I hope you don’t limit yourself to who you are on paper. To a resume of the things you’ve done and the awards you’ve received and that diploma hanging on the wall.

I hope you look back and remember the places you’ve been, the people you’ve loved, the lives you’ve changed. I hope you look back at your 18-year-old self and can’t recognize her. I hope these four years have done their job in shaping your mind—in instilling the information, the knowledge you want and need for your next step in life, whatever that may be. I hope they’ve shaped and expanded and changed your mind, I really do. But more importantly, I hope they’ve changed your heart. I hope they’ve changed the way you see the world. I hope they’ve changed the way you give to this world. I hope they’ve changed the way you love this world.

I hope you look at this graduation, this milestone, as a beginning rather than an end. The beginning of a life you want. The beginning of a life you love. The beginning of a life that makes you happy. The beginning of a life that matters.

I hope you look in the mirror every day and see someone. That you see a person—a whole, extraordinary person. Not a number. Not a degree. Not a job. Not a salary. A person. A person that matters. Because you do—you matter.

This year, graduation hits a wee bit close to home for me. This year, the Smith Family had a little graduate of our own. That’s right. My baby brother graduated from college this past Sunday. Taylor Smith became an alumnus of Marquette University. And we’re proud as hell. So, we celebrated (heavily). We celebrated the papers, the exams, the presentations. The all-nighters, the thousands of cups of coffee. We celebrated his academic achievements.

We celebrated his stellar GPA, his Dean’s List appearances, his dual-degree. My brother graduated from Marquette University with degrees in International Business and Finance.

And that’s what you’ll garner from his graduation. You’ll learn of his academic excellence, his achievements. You’ll learn who he is—on paper.

What you don’t know is the person he’s become, the person he is. What you don’t know is that school didn’t come easy to him. That he had to work his ass off until midnight after seven hours of school and two hours of baseball practice to get shit done. To get to this school. What you don’t know is that he’s amassed more friends than there are days in the year. That people absolutely adore him, cling to him. And that he loves them right back, fiercely and intensely. What you don’t know is that he had to take his finals this year hours after finding out our grandpa has terminal cancer. That he aced them anyway. What you don’t know is that he’s seen me through every hell I’ve ever had to endure. That he’s spent days and nights on the phone with me making sure that I’m okay. That he’s my best friend. That he’s my favorite person.

In the four years he spent at Marquette, he studied abroad in Barcelona, accepted a prestigious job offer, graduated with a double major. And I’m damn proud. In the four years Taylor spent at Marquette, he’s become the most beautiful person I know. And that—that is what I’m really proud of.

That’s what I hope he remembers about these four years—the person he’s become. That’s who I hope he sees in the mirror every day.

I hope that’s what you remember about your four years. I hope that’s who you see in the mirror every day. The person you’ve become.

Because you matter. People matter. And if there’s anything you take with you, I hope it’s that.

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