Commencement Address to Self

Dear boy, remember the beginning.


Once upon a time, you left home for a six-month stint studying Shakespeare across the pond, and you fell in love with a city at the same time you fell in love with yourself after your first breakup left you beyond-certain, in all your naive melancholy, that you never could never and would never do so again.

You sat with a dear professor, a few weeks before your departure, and shared with her your spoils of war.

“Life,” you began, your wide eyes shimmering in the springtime sun that filtered through the studio window, “is just an endless series of self-fulfilled prophecies.”

You beamed with pride for your rediscovered confidence.

“So… why not prophesy good?

For an American abroad at the age of twenty, you carried such massive hubris pretty well! And while you could sit here a few years later and call your self-appointed coming-of-age a pure delusion of grandeur, that would belie the real wisdom upon which you stumbled while you drunkenly strode your way around London in your weathered black leather shoes.

Your professor smiled and confirmed your theory in a mere few words. Perhaps her gracious reservation was meant to allow you an opportunity to continue to explore your discovery. But at the time, that succinct exchange was enough for you to settle your score with yourself, button your redemption narrative, and let yourself fall, heavy with happiness, into your next future.

Every year since, you have returned to London for anywhere from a few days alone to a week with your partner, and for all your real and warranted feelings of arrival and closure in that first discovery, you could not yet understand that it marked the beginning of a greater journey with the city that has become your most favorite place to be.

Your first six months there were the freshman year of a special sort of higher education. You selected your field of study, arrived upon your lofty focus of self-actualization, and introduced yourself to the tools necessary to achieve it.


Next year, you returned to London for a four-day solo pilgrimage to see your favorite band, Blur, play your favorite place, Hyde Park, in your favorite city. These four days capped your sophomore year. At its start, you broke your arm and suffered a series of career setbacks while recovering. You toiled in frustration and stillness, but time carried you forward. You destined yourself to another phoenix-from-the-ashes storyline. The year culminated with you finally earning a BFA in Theatre Arts. How’s that for narratively exhilarating self-fulfilled prophesy!? You were pretty good at this whole thing, huh!?


The following year, you returned as a full-fledged adult, for nearly a week, with a few big-boy paychecks in your wallet and a partner on your arm. Your junior year saw you employ your lessons adventurously — cavalierly painting in bold strokes with bright, primary colors. You were an adult in the world and knew what you wanted: to talk to strangers, to fall in love, to make some money and spend it living your dreams. It was an exhilarating rush that found you hustling your way into consequential life choices.

And now, your higher education culminates in a three-day visit that left you as full of gratitude as your initial wide-eyed discovery. Senior year was hard — as hard as your last of your non-London/non-metaphysical/non-state-of-being university. This time, it wasn’t your arm that broke. You lost your dad after a dozen years of estrangement. The lost potential and harsh spotlight on your heredity sent you reeling. Your broken heart sunk you deep into anxiety and depression that sapped the color from your forever fabulous, rainbow-brite life. It was harder to identify a destiny through the muck and the mire. You couldn’t prophesy through the grey. Step by step, you ambled forward in your weathered black leather shoes, and you squinted to see the good ahead. In the distance was your city, London, at the end of an important twelve-day trip you worked very hard to make happen.

You sat through a ten-hour, direct flight to Athens, Greece without much anxiety. And when you got off the plane, though the air was heavy with humidity and the city nearly indiscernible in its foreignness, you could breathe more easily and see more clearly. These were perhaps just the benefits of a good vacation and nothing more.

Next: Paris, France, a city that captured your heart (nearly as much as London) with its shimmering lights and essential romance. The first night, however, you felt a melancholy take hold of you. You recalled life at home and the year that had come to pass, all of its trials and tribulations, and you mourned the happiness lost to experiences of grief and terror. You and your partner talked and talked and talked it through, over a bottle of wine on a bench across from the Arc de Triomphe. You invited the tools of your beloved self-actualization to return. You resolved that things would improve by way of precise action. And you exhaled a few tears of gratitude for the shapes you could begin to see in an imagined future previously so obscured.

Finally, London. You ran and ran and ran around your entire time there, basking in the comforts and joys offered to you by the city you love. Your shoulders dropped and stress finally melted away. Your steps landed soundly, rooting you — through your weathered black leather shoes — into this earth, this realm, this England. There you were, standing tall and confident, if a bit perplexed. You asked yourself:

How do you feel so at home here? Why? Where did all this comfort and joy come from?

It can’t be completely atmospheric, transmuting into you by osmosis with every utterance of “lift” and “chips” and “candyfloss.”

And if you can have it here, you can find it at home. You can find it in you.

You’ve done it before, and you can do it again.

Dear boy, remember the beginning.


Four years ago, you wrote:

I had to go away to come home. But, boy, am I overtaken with gratitude that I learned this firsthand as it unfolded beneath my weathered black leather shoes. I cannot begin to imagine the next steps they’ll take — not for fear but rather for willingness to let my mortal feet excitedly animate them as they pound pavements along the path I cut for myself in this great, big, beautiful world.

There lie but two nemeses opposite me along the way, and they have revealed themselves to be fear and laziness. I know them well, but I know myself better. And for that, I resolve to tirelessly defend myself against them so that I may continue to boldly act out the absurd, perhaps overwritten, but neverendingly thrilling dream-come-true that is my history.

Yes, my gratitude overflows, but I cannot yet indulge in a curtain call. The next scene is about to start and I cannot wait to discover its terrific twists and tantalizing turns as so I devise.

And now, following your fourth adventure to London in as many years, you graduate.

At the beginning, you identified fear and laziness your nemeses in keeping you from yourself. Throughout the past four years, you have seen them wear many a disguise. Sometimes, you managed to unmask them in the nick of time before they can attack and leave them in your dust, cursing our name like a thwarted Scooby Doo villain. Other times, you try and fail, and they mercilessly obscure the path ahead. You trip and fall. You are broken or bruised.

It may be as Pollyanna now as it was wide-eyed and hubristic four years ago, but do not lose hope.

We must believe there is good to come and it is that we have to prophesy for it is that which will come true.

After all, an education is a terrible thing to waste.

So, let yourself toss your cap high and graduate. And when asked what’s next, choose to say: the best is yet to come.

Here’s to the next beginning.

Michael John CiszewskiComment