Finding Your Path and Purpose

Congratulations Class of 2022. You have arrived! You have navigated unique and memorable high school years, and through it all you’ve survived, thrived, and arrived. And now you sit on the cusp of opportunity.

We, the adults, have an apology to make. Not for all the mistakes we made as parents, teachers, or administrators. We owe you an apology for the legacy we’re passing on, including environmental degradation, gun violence, international warfare, social injustice and inequity, and political tribalism. Your generation faces a daunting set of challenges, which are not your fault, and solving them is not entirely up to you. We adults aren’t done trying. We’ll keep at it.

I have been so heartened and impressed with how much each of you has taken on, achieved, and contributed. It gives me hope for you, for us, and for the future. Yet I’m worried for you. These challenges, compounded by pandemic isolation and the amplifying power of social media, are creating a mental health crisis for many young people. Many feel a palpable sense of anxiety about the state of the world. Among adolescents across the nation, there is an unhealthy sense of urgency, a need to be seen, to be special, and to achieve–now.

Many schools say our job is to help you discover your passion and find your purpose. I don’t agree. My advice to you is to be patient about your path and purpose.

It is important to do things you enjoy. It’s rewarding to go deep on interests and to learn new skills, and it’s satisfying to feel expert at something that differentiates you. It’s important to know and claim your identity. You all have done these things in your time here. But few people settle on their purpose in high school.

What actually happens to most of us is that along the way we get an opportunity, we are asked to take on something, we learn something new, we follow someone we admire, we try on a job or move to a new place—and we end up being and doing things we never envisioned. Our skills and interests and relationships coalesce into direction and purpose over time.

That’s the wonder—the serendipity, the beauty, the adventure—of life.

Some of you have a plan, such as a college major, professional path, or geographic destination, and you may follow it. Having a plan is good. For some of you the plan is college and not much more yet. That’s good too. Either way, at this moment, you have a rare and precious opportunity.

You are among the most fortunate 1 percent of 18-year-olds in the world. You have the privilege to explore, discover, experiment, take on different roles and jobs, and pursue your interests. I’m not suggesting that you be a dabbler, a wanderer, a dilettante. You may need to make work and life choices soon based on personal circumstances. Whatever you do, you want to start crafting a life worth living.

Please don’t drive by this moment. Don’t let the urgency of the world, Tik Tok or Instagram comparisons, or the clarity some peers seem to have about their direction make you feel inadequate or force you into answers that may not be clear yet, and will likely change over time.

Be patient about your path and purpose. Your mental health, your wellbeing, and your happiness depend on it.

Take a deep breath, smile, relax. You are a Catlin Gabel School graduate. Your wonderful teachers helped you to love learning—about ideas, others, the world, and about yourself. You bring skills and knowledge to the world. You bring curiosity and skepticism. And you bring your voice and confidence, wherever your path may lead.

That’s good enough for now. That’s good enough forever.

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