The Watchman

The Watchman

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Road Not Taken

As commencement season draws to a close, one in which my son was a participant, I have had moments of reflection on my own high school commencement twenty-seven short years ago. On that day, I was selected to be one of the speakers during the ceremony. I'm sure that my fellow Falcons - Class of 1984, have no recollection of what I spoke that evening. I remember vaguely because of the many hours I spent trying to prepare something that would be profound and worthy of this greatest day in our lives.

I do remember clearly choosing to base my talk on the Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken".

After having recited the poem, I then went on to recount some newsworthy accomplishments of individuals that had occurred throughout the year to illustrate that we should not give in to peer pressure or follow what others have chosen for us, but chart our own course and not be afraid of challenges.

Twenty years later, I attended my high school reunion. It was fun to see old friends again and to catch up on each others' lives. It was also bittersweet because of those who chose not to attend, not because of distance or previous commitments, but because of unwarranted shame and anger. At one point during the evening, one fellow classmate asked me why I hadn't achieved more in my life. I had been class salutatorian (hence the talk at graduation), a high honors student, full scholarship to college, etc. He felt I should have gone on to accomplish great things that would have my name acknowledged by mankind and bring accolades to those associated with me, yet I hadn't even received a bachelor's degree.

This is what I know. I will never regret the road that I have chosen. Choosing to follow the path that for me was not well worn has made all the difference.

A local media personality was asked to give the commencement address at an area high school. Leading up to it, he asked his audience what advice they would give this graduating class. So I have been thinking about what I would say if I could give a commencement address today. This is what I would say:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Frost's poem teaches us that our life is one of choices. As we make our choices our life will be changed and shaped. We do not need to stand helplessly at the fork in the road with nothing to direct us in making our choice. It is up to each of us to mark the path that we will choose and to leave our mark upon it for others who follow.

First, we need to have a plan. I am not talking about a short term goal such as graduation from college, religous service, service in the military. I mean a long-term plan. Where do you want your life to be in ten years? Twenty years? Fifty? Seventy-five? When you die, what will people remember about you?

Choose goals that will help you accomplish your plan. Does your ten year plan work with your fifty year plan? What needs to take place to reconcile them? Talk to others who have been down the path you are choosing. What advice do they have?

There will also be times when the path you have chosen will divurge and you will again need to make decisions on your direction. Your plan will help guide you in these decisions.

Second, remember to be flexible. Just as a path will have twists and turns and isn't always smooth, so does life. These obstacles should be embraced as an opportunity to learn and grow. When I was seventeen, I would never have imagined all the things that I have experienced. My life has been richer for these unexpected vistas.

Third, remember we are in this thing called life together. No one walks the path of life alone. Others will join us on our journey, some for a short while and others for the whole journey. Others will come and go and return again. Remember to say thank you often and not be afraid to help others.

And finally, choose to be happy. It is in error to believe that we will only be happy when we have accomplished everything we feel we should or have obtained all life has to offer. This is not so. There is no one or nothing that can make us truly happy besides ourself. To be happy is a choice each of us make every day. When we choose to be happy, we have no need to judge ourselves by others' perceptions.

I love this quote: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why is it called the present. We cannot change the past and we do not know what tomorrow holds. All we can see is the path that lies before us today. We need to embrace today as the most precious of gifts and set our foot upon our path.

1 comment:

  1. I love this poem and this post. I've had a similar epiphany recently even though I did do the school thing. The bottom line is that some choices will ALWAYS preclude others. I think that is what leads to mid-life crisis- the realization that our previous choices (good and bad) have brought us to a place where everything is NOT possible for us and we must chose among the things that remain- good and bad.

    As for schooling, now that you're home with the girls you could always check out Western Governor's University and finish your degree from home. Greg has decided to FINALLY finish his Bachelor's degree and will start next week. Aundi's Mother-in-law finished her Bachelor's at 61 and just got her Master's Degree at 65. The order and timing is sometimes different than planned or expected but, if/when you are ready or interested, that door is still open to you.