To the graduates of this ‘lost’ year

To those students that graduated this year — Bravo! You’ve done it. Not only did you navigate years of hallways, books and sometimes socially awkward situations, you persevered through this haze of microbes disrupting life right now. Because of your parents, classmates, teachers and a supportive community, we all are one step closer to a better future because of your accomplishments.

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Education is one barometer in a long line of test kits to determine a society’s viability. Over the years the educational system doles out lessons, facts and sometimes fiction stories to brighten the day and packages it all into a streamlined shell of experience to be opened when the time is right. A final measure of that education is what the graduate does with it.

In today’s lexicon, the word essential is used more often than I believe it ever has been. On the front lines of life right now, the word essential refers to: healthcare workers, emergency personnel and those people providing the everyday essentials so we are not hungry, not without shelter and most certainly, not without an education.

Photo by Amanda Ellison

Consider yourself resilient because you were hit with the unexpected – a virus that no one saw coming — and you continued moving forward. Life is all about the unexpected. So, why not now when you’ve unpacked your suitcase for that last year of educated bliss? Wham! Your life suddenly stops. It’s like a carnival ride that shakes and shimmies, then slowly starts back up. You didn’t get off that ride. You persevered and made it. For all of that, you are perhaps better prepared to take on the many challenges life will throw your way, many of which you will handle with grace — because you are essential.

Though this year did not go off as you dreamed it would, you’ve waited your entire life for this day. Know that it has not been for naught. With your diploma in hand, you now have the opportunity to take steps forward and to be “essential.” What you do next is up to you. Think well. Steward your decision, hone it and cherish it. Then, reveal it to the world by following your path.

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Sages and intellectuals, both past and present, will have had their say in what it means to graduate. Read them all; their words are food, sustenance for the long journey you will take with that first step after graduation.  It is a step as big as the one you took on wobbly legs all those years ago while you babbled a determined breath, your voice — a voice that carries you on today and makes you essential.


“She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans.” —Kobi Yamada

“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” —Albert Einstein

“What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world, for the better.” — Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired), speaking to 2014 graduates at the University of Texas

“What will your essential service be?” — Oprah Winfrey, speaking to 2020 graduates in a virtual commencement address on May 15


Now, take up your pen and write in that ledger of life your mantra. What will it be? Think and write each and every day. Write on paper; write with your decisions, your attitude, in caring for others and being thankful for those who got you here. The notes from that ledger will sustain you on your journey.

Photo by Peggy Marco

On that day you graduated, you just knew the sun was shining somewhere. The sky screamed blue, you picked yourself up, held your head high, smiled and continued on. If you didn’t feel that way, know you should, because somewhere the weather was perfect on your day. Clocks across the world celebrated as they simultaneously clicked forward, clapping with true sincerity in celebration of what you achieved that day, on that exact second of accomplishment.

Photo by Kordula Vahle

Tears and smiles were plentiful, celebratory accolades arrived in cards and emails — enough to paper walls of the new places you will go. And you will go! This year has not been lost. It is in your pockets, your backpack; in your head and heart; it is in today, tomorrow and all the in-betweens that life is made up of. Thoughts, ideas, and remarkable things await you. They will wash away the doldrums of this past year. Don’t ever close your eyes, always keep your heart open and remember to leave your footprints everywhere. Be essential!

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.