One of American literature’s most famous authors was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who thought “envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide.”
One reason people like to quote Emerson is because he helped define the general American, self-reliant attitude. Usually, students gravitate toward authors who are relevant to the everyday struggles of “teenagerhood.”
When seniors graduate and are “out on their own,” they discover that many of these idealized quotes no longer make practical sense. Paths after high school can present some very challenging hazards, a few roadblocks and even the realization that the path isn’t leading to the place they thought it would.
To envy people around you is ignorance in Emerson’s estimation because wanting what someone else has can be healthy if we are working toward an ideal. But to jealously covet what others have is not understanding that we are each uniquely qualified to make a distinct impression on the world, in our own way, using our talents and abilities.
Settling for imitation in life is perfectly acceptable for many in our culture, but Emerson thought it to be suicide because we gradually lose ourselves in the longing to be a copy of someone else.
C.S. Lewis, the chronicler of Narnia, had some wise advice for those graduating as well as those already in the midst of life and a career. He fashioned a saying that encompassed the wisest and humblest of life experiences:
“Sometimes the best progress toward our destination is to go back and get on the right path.”
I hope our graduates will have the humility to know when they need to turn around and the wisdom to seek the right path.
May the paths you follow be worth staying on.
At least that’s what I think.