Every year I have the great honor of watching several dozen students make one of the most important transitions in life--that from adolescence to the beginning of adulthood.
It is largely symbolic, but it's one of life's most important milestones, though one you may not now see the significance of. If your parents seem inexplicably happy right now, it may just be because they're proud of you. Oh, even if they don't show it, I can guarantee that they are indeed proud of you.
Many of you I've known since you were in middle school. I remember "J." when she assiduously applied herself to improving her writing in seventh grade; now I see all that hard work pay off as she prepares to attend one of the better UCs in the southern part of the state in the fall. And someone who is one of the hardest-working people I've ever known (and kindest as well); she worked tirelessly for years after immigrating to the US, and earlier this year found herself in the envious position of being able to choose from three Ivies. And another student I have worked with off and on since middle school--she has now finished up and will be heading to her first choice college, a small private college in California. And I'll never forget "ABC"! Since fifth grade, I've known you. As of now, you are choosing between a top-ranked public and private university; when you finally decide, I am planning to warn them that you're coming and to watch out, haha. And I would like to mention my very own son, who will be graduating from an SFUSD elementary school tomorrow!
Some of you I've gotten to know only in the last few years, and I am continually impressed by your work ethic, your intelligence, your optimism, and your developed sense of right and wrong. People of my generation seem to like to denigrate each successive generation, but I believe they frequently do so uncritically--from where I stand, I am more hopeful today about the world than I have ever been. Where in the past, discrimination and inequality was relatively prevalent, today I see young people embracing and celebrating differences. I see young people with dreams of entering medical school or engineering, sometimes law, and one or two of you are going against the norm and are considering liberal arts, fine arts, or even a gap year. Our future and the world are in your hands, and I feel optimistic about the direction we as a people are taking.
I sometimes feel sad to know that such wonderful people will leave San Francisco and possibly never return; however, I am comforted knowing that as you embark on this next stage of life, you will be pursuing your dreams and becoming happier and more successful than you ever thought.
College is a wonderful time. Make the most of it; it happens only once. I myself never had the opportunity to experience the dorm life (worked my way through college), but the vicarious joy of seeing my students come into themselves in these years inspires me to continue working with students to mentor and counsel them so that they are best positioned in senior year to be able to choose from several great universities, any of which would be wonderful options.
One final bit of advice--be happy, have fun, work hard. But be safe. I'll leave the lecture for another time, but remember that you have one mind and one body to last the rest of your lives. You may feel invincible and invulnerable now, but the future you will thank you for building your intelligence, health, and character now--sow the seeds of success and integrity, and happiness will be sure to follow.