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Graduation Speech: Happiness is Success

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A few months ago I was sitting in the guidance center waiting for some transcripts. I was having one of those "high-stress, low-patience" days and I was just in a very bad mood. As I waited, I noticed a little book on one of the coffee tables called "What happiness is." Cynically curious, I picked up the book and fingered through it. Each page was different quote about what happiness is, and as I read each one, I started to slowly lift out of my bitter mood.

The first one I read was "Happiness sneaks in through a door you didn't know you left open." - John Barrymore.

I could buy that, I was starting to feel a little better.

The next one I read was "All who would win joy must share it, happiness was born a twin." - Lord Byron.

Now that felt good to read my present mood.

Eagerly, I read the third one. "Happiness is going to the 20 year reunion and finding that the boy elected most likely to succeed, didn't."

Needless to say, I felt a little disenfranchised by this one. Having won that category in the yearbook this year, I felt a sudden added pressure. I was now indentured for 20 years to try to succeed in order to keep all of you from being happy. It was a lose-lose situation for all of us.

For a time after, my thoughts often drifted to that 20-year reunion. How was I going to be successful? How was I going to insure I fulfilled my high school yearbook's prophecy? How was I going to be a success?

Immediately, my thoughts drifted to money. Success to most Americans immediately means big houses, hot cars, bling-bling. I had no guarantees to myself that I would be a success. There was nothing I could do but continue to work hard, stay up late writing papers and hang posters my entire life for dances. I didn't necessarily want this.

So I began to question what success is to me. And it's more than the cliche of happiness. What success is to me, could be radically different than what success is to anyone else in this room. It's up to me to define it for me. It's up to me to decide what I have to do in my life to make it a success.

We all set our own expectations. For some of us, all we could ever want is a family to love and we're a success. For others, we need to be the top trader on Wall Street. Success is wherever you see yourself being happy and getting there.

In Angola, success is owning your own cow and being able to feed your family. In Afghanistan, anyone who lived a life something like the lifestyle we enjoy in Lake Stevens would be considered successful beyond their wildest dreams.

So when if I come back here in 20 years and I don't have a big house, five cars and lots of bling bling, don't consider me a failure. You can ask me if I consider my life a success and I'll probably say yes. Because I plan to set those expectations in my life that I can reach and have plans that will make me happy and so when I die, even if it's in 60 years or next week, I'm where I wanted to be.

So go dream and figure out where you want to be. And as you go through life don't be afraid to change the plan. Just be realistic.

I'm going to miss you guys. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be your class president twice and being such great friends. I consider our class a success because of the friends we've become. See you in 20 years.

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"Graduation Speech: Happiness is Success." 02 Dec 2016

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