Dream Big, Learn Much

I reached the hospital about 20 minutes after visiting hours had ended for the day, and I don’t know what I would have done if the nurse hadn’t let me see the latest addition to the Buntjer family – a little girl – my first-born niece.

She wheeled the baby into the hallway, and I still remember the feeling of shock when I saw your face. I think I even asked the nurse, “Are you sure this is the Buntjer baby?”

There, in the clear plastic nursery basinet, was this precious little babe with the fullest head of dark hair I’d ever seen on an hours-old infant.

The nurse may have laughed a little, then assured me that yes, this was Jessica Renae. A few years later, I started calling her Jessie.

Later on this week, Jessie will don her cap and gown and walk into a gymnasium with Pomp and Circumstance and this Aunt Julie will be trying to swallow the lump in my throat and keep the tears at bay. Shoot, I’m already crying just writing this. Another one is all grown up.

Well, grown up to the point of high school graduation anyway. As you will find out, my dear Jessie and all you other graduates out there, your life has only just begun.

I’ve been thinking for a while about what I’d write about your graduation day. I turned to Dr. Seuss for inspiration in “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” I listened to country music songs like “My Wish,” “Don’t Miss Your Life,” and “I Hope You Dance,” a favorite of mine, sung by Lee Ann Womak.

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance….”

I thought a lot about the advice I want to give to you, Jessie, and the truth is, everything I can think of has already been written before.

When I was a kid, I used to watch the airplanes soaring high above and dream that I was a world traveler, on some grand adventure like those people flying overhead. When I walked down the road to fish in the creek, I dreamed about following that road as far as it would go – all the way to the Atlantic, and then to the Pacific.

Never stop dreaming, Jessie. Take every opportunity to travel, to experience new places, new cultures and make new friends. Open your eyes, embrace the journey and let it continue to shape who you will become.

Do what you love and love what you do. Work hard. Play hard. Find a hobby.

Never stop learning. As you plan for college in the fall, there will be more textbooks, more lectures and more life lessons in store for you. I hope you take them all in stride, and remember that it isn’t always about math, it’s about learning to solve problems. It isn’t always about English, it’s about developing an enjoyment for the written word.

Remember this, if you can’t afford the travel, the closest thing to it is a library.
One of my favorite books, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” is on my bookshelf if you ever want to borrow it. Oh, and I also have the last 17 issues of “Travel+Leisure” magazines thanks to the subscription you sold me while fundraising for your Spanish Club trip to Puerto Rico. You may use them for inspiration if you like (and no, a stack of magazines isn’t what I’m giving you for graduation!)

Everything else I could share with you can be summed up in Robert Fulghum’s book, “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.”

“Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some. Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.”

Congratulations Jessie! Best wishes to the Class of 2012. This is your life. Make the most of it.