My mother in law recently shared an online article with her children that contained a lot of wisdom. Joan is not one to do this often so I made sure to read the article knowing that it must contain some message she wanted us to read and possibly share with our children, her grandchildren. The article was about Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and the commencement address he delivered at his son's recent ninth grade graduation at Cardigan Mountain School - a New Hampshire boarding school. As I read the speech I quickly realized that it was not political in nature but rather full of inspirational messages for young people. What particularly struck me, was the great "Jewish lessons" in his address.
Here are some excerpts from his address:
Congratulations, class of 2017. You've reached an important milestone. An important stage of your life is behind you. I'm sorry to be the one to tell you it is the easiest stage of your life . . . And as far as the confidence goes, I think you will appreciate that it is not because you succeeded at everything you did, but because with the help of your friends, you were not afraid to fail. And if you did fail, you got up and tried again. And if you failed again, you got up and tried again. And if you failed again, it might be time to think about doing something else. But it was not just success, but not being afraid to fail that brought you to this point. . . . From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don't take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you'll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they're going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes. . . .
The last bit of advice I'll give you is very simple, but I think it could make a big difference in your life. Once a week, you should write a note to someone. Not an email. A note on a piece of paper. It will take you exactly 10 minutes. Talk to an adult, let them tell you what a stamp is. You can put the stamp on the envelope. Again, 10 minutes, once a week. . . . Put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and send it. It will mean a great deal to people who - for reasons most of us cannot contemplate - have dedicated themselves to teaching middle school boys. As I said, that will take you exactly 10 minutes a week. By the end of the school year, you will have sent notes to 40 people. Forty people will feel a little more special because you did, and they will think you are very special because of what you did. No one else is going to carry that dividend during your time at school.
Enough advice. I would like to end by reading some important lyrics. . . . from the great American philosopher, Bob Dylan - the lyrics from Forever Young:
May God bless you and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young . . .
May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young
Read Justice John Roberts full commencement speech
There are so many great lessons in these words and direct connections to well-known Biblical stories. I share this with you today in the hope that you will share it with your children or grandchildren. Let's all allow these words to spark some critical multi-generational conversations. I believe by doing so we will help future generations be more prepared for the challenges they will face and, who knows, maybe it will help all of us remain "Forever Young."
Rabbi Adam Feldman