By Robert St. John
It’s graduation season. This year’s high school seniors have experienced an extremely uncharacteristic high school career filled with Zoom classes, masks, and mandates. But this this once-in-100-years craziness appears to be over. We are, once again, hosting graduation ceremonies with caps, gowns, cords, and commencement addresses.
When my two children went to college, I wrote each of them letters and tucked the letters into the desk drawers of their dorm rooms just before saying my final goodbyes. I have combined and tweaked each of those letters— and added some points from a commencement address I delivered several years ago— to serve as this year’s unofficial 2022 commencement address to all Mississippi high school seniors.
Dear graduates, there are two, seemingly unconventional, routes to success in your upcoming professional and personal life— through passion and fun. The decision regarding your professional life should be the easiest decision you’ll ever make. Your career should be about one thing— PASSION
It took the first 20 years of my life to find my passion. But once I did, my career path was set. The minute I started working in restaurants I fell in love with the industry. Almost instantly I knew what I was “supposed” to do. I love restaurants. I eat, sleep and breathe restaurants. Restaurants are my hobby.
A few years ago, my son and I were riding together. He asked, “Dad, what should I do when I grow up?” I thought for a minute and then said, “Son, whatever it is, don’t follow the money, follow your passion.”
Someone once said, “Do what you love to do for a career, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That is passion. It’s true. I do my hobby and I get paid for it. That is what I want for each of you.
Success follows passion, every time.
The second piece of advice is about fun. Go out and have fun. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. But it’s got to be the right kind of fun, and it’s got to come from the right kind of places.
Having fun is where it gets a little trickier. It took a lot longer for me to figure out how to be a success in my personal life, and how to find the true source of fun—it’s not at a frat party or at someone’s apartment at three in the morning. Granted, those things might be fun in a fleeting sort of way, but you’re never going to achieve a fuller life at a frat party.
After I graduated high school, I looked for fun in a lot of the wrong places, and I searched for fun for a long time. It was around the time that my children were born that the 40-year-old me figured out what life is all about— faith, family, friends, food and fun. Those things, in that order, are what lead to a full, fruitful, joy-filled and productive life.
Graduates, befriend the underdog. Laugh a lot. Make others laugh a lot. Visit a nursing home. Make them laugh a lot. Hug your parents long and hard. Hug them so long that they’re the ones who let go first. The next time you see your favorite teacher, give him or her a big hug. Thank them. If you don’t appreciate them today, I promise you that you will, soon. Hug the teacher you liked least, too. They’re likely in need of a hug. They probably worked just as hard, you just don’t realize that, yet.
Take care of your teeth. Walk a lot. Drink milk. Don’t hate. Stay in touch with your friends. Make new friends. Share a meal with your friends. Floss. Travel.
Don’t ever compare your insides to other people’s outsides, and always stay humble. When your head begins to swell, your mind stops growing.
Recently, I have come to the realization that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. Just know that if God were small enough for you to truly understand, God wouldn’t be big enough to take care of the things God needs to handle in your life. Have faith. Trust God.
At the first sign of trouble, go to God first. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God won’t protect you (though your second call should be to a parent). They say, “Nothing will happen today that you and God can’t handle.” They are right.
You will face challenges and setbacks over the next several years. Remember that despair is only a visiting moment, hope is always around the corner. Never lose hope. Never.
I have learned that the difference between intention and decision is that intention is followed by more intentions. Decision is followed by action. Always take action.
Never confuse pleasure with happiness. Trust me, there’s a difference. Ladies, always know that “no” is a complete sentence.
Know to your core that the best things in life aren’t things, and until you give up the idea of happiness being somewhere else, you’ll never find it.
Don’t worry too much. I’ve lived through the worst stuff that NEVER happened way more than the stuff that DID happen. Again, trust God. If you pray, don’t worry. If you worry, don’t pray.
Don’t take drugs. Drugs are the lie that you never learn the truth about until it’s too late. Trust me on this one.
Eat French fries. Be nice. Be bold. Behave. Spend time with your grandparents. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor’s neighbor. Love your neighbor’s grandparents. Make mistakes. Then don’t sweat the mistakes you make. Go out and make more mistakes, you’ll get it right eventually. Forgive others for their mistakes. That whole “Do unto others” thing is truly good advice. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t be so hard on others. Just make it a general rule not to be hard.
Volunteer where you feel led. Don’t just “give back.” To “give back” you must have received something first. Just “give,” then give some more. Give of your time, give of your resources and give your love. When you think you’ve given enough, then give even more.
Don’t forget the laughing thing. Don’t forget the hugging thing either. Don’t forget any of it. Find your passion. Make that your career. Then go be passionate. Have fun. Help others. These days aren’t a rehearsal for some upcoming future event. This is your moment. This is your life. You will make mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. Learn from them and move on.
Find “one thing” that can make a difference in other people’s lives. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, just one thing. Once you find that thing, whatever it is, do it. Your thing— no matter how small— can be contagious and your friends might find their one thing that helps others. Imagine how great this world could be if everyone did just one thing, out of their normal routine, to help others.
Give of yourself and give of your time. The only things we take from this world are what we gave away, shared experiences, and lives impacted. Now is a great time to start giving. Your life will truly begin when you stop expecting the world to give you something and you start trying to figure out what you can give to the world.
Share your happiness. Count your blessings. And when all else fails, follow directions.
Know that life is short, but it’s the longest thing we’ll ever do. So have fun, be kind, and call your parents.
2 cups Mayonnaise
1 cups Ketchup
1 cup Chili sauce
1 cup Cottonseed Oil
1 Large Onion, diced
1 /3 cup Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
4 Tbl Garlic, minced
2 Tbl Paprika
2 Tbl Water
2 Tbl Worcestershire
1 Tbl. Pepper
2 tsp Dry mustard
2 tsp Salt
Puree all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Allow to sit overnight in refrigerator before use.
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. He lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)
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