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Learning to walk

Dear Graduate,

The root meaning of the word graduation is to step forward. When you graduate, you’ve taken a step ahead, or up. It’s a big, meaningful step, and you’ve worked hard, so you rightfully celebrate and receive lots of congratulations, and hopefully take a vacation to recuperate.

It’s funny that the very first big step most people take is a literal step. Most babies learn to walk before they learn to talk, so for most people, your first step is your first big achievement. One small step for a baby is a giant step in their development. After that, life will never be the same again – not for them, and not for their parents.

Human beings started to walk upright about 4 million years ago. We aren’t the only species to walk on two legs – bipedal locomotion – but the list is short. Kangaroos, wallabies, and other macropods, along with a few other mammal species, are bipedal, but they hop, not walk. Some animals, like lizards and horses, become bipedal at times for certain reasons, like to run or fight. But only humans, gibbons (another ape), and birds walk by raising one foot at a time. So when a young child learns to walk, it’s a clear sign that this little person is well on the way to becoming either a human, a gibbon, or a bird.

But the thing about learning to walk is that the whole idea is to keep going. A baby doesn’t take its first step and then sits down on its rump and calls it a day. The big thing that the baby accomplished wasn’t really to take its first step, although that’s what we celebrate. The big thing was that it learned to walk. The baby graduated into being a toddler. Now that the kid can walk, they probably won’t stop for the rest of their life, unless an injury or disease interferes.

Same goes for graduating from kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, or any of the other steps that people take in their lives. As with a child’s first step, we celebrate the event, the step itself – but the real accomplishment is what led up to it.

A baby who takes their first step has learned how it’s done. By graduating from school, you’ve learned how that’s done – how to accomplish a big, significant goal that changes your life. 

It takes a lot of time, which means patience and determination and perseverance. 

It takes work, but not just on your part – you had teachers and tutors and other students, probably parents, siblings, and friends who played a part in your everyday work toward this accomplishment. 

There were people who inspired you, encouraged you, and motivated you. 

And it took courage and commitment to stay on track – especially during a global pandemic. 

It took believing in yourself and believing in your goal. 

All these are platitudes that get mentioned and praised in every graduation speech – but they’re real, too, and by graduating from school you’ve proved you have them. You deserve to be proud.

You built up these qualities of character during school, and they will serve you in everything you do later. They’re like muscles you’ve developed. Those qualities and strengths are the real reward for getting through school. The diploma is just the icing on the cake.

So now, you not only have made a big, significant step. You’ve learned how to take a step like that. And just like you wouldn’t expect a baby to take one step and then sit down and rest on its laurels for the rest of its life, why would you, now that you’ve learned how to do something big?

I mean, look at Dave Kunst – he walked all the way around the world, and was the first person ever to do that. Or George Meegan – he walked almost 20,000 miles, from the southern tip of South America to Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, and while he was at it, he got married, had two children, and wrote a book.

What I mean is, it’s a big, big world, and there’s so much to do in it. Even Globe-Miami is a big world, so full of opportunity when you look around. And you’ve learned how to do big things. So when I say keep taking steps, I don’t necessarily mean literally. I mean, keep doing big things, now that you know how.

So what’s next?

And congratulations!

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