The secret to happiness is found outside of comparison trap

EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife, Betsy, is a high school and CCP English teacher at a local school, and, like many in education, is incredibly passionate about our youth and issues that affect them. She has had the privilege of previously delivering commencement speeches at two high schools. Because she is an English teacher, she loves to write, and penned her version of this year’s graduation speech. I couldn’t agree more with her poignant words. Enjoy!

Congratulations to the Class of 2023 on your graduation!

Everyone is so proud of all you’ve done the past four years. From your academic achievements to your athletic accomplishments, you have built an incredible resume. You have pushed yourself with your classes from selecting the most difficult courses to trying your best to earn the highest grade in the class.

Meanwhile, you have completed rigorous testing to serve as a ranking of how well you are doing compared to your classmates and how well your school is doing compared to other schools.

In your extracurricular activities, you have competed not only against area athletes but also against your own teammates for a spot on the field, the diamond, the track, the court, the rink, or the pitch. Your victories have made us proud and we have taken so much joy in watching you succeed.

If I’m being honest, at this point, rather than feeling elated, you are probably tired. Because, even though you are capable of great things and we are here to celebrate you and those impressive accomplishments today, you are probably left a little burned out.

As an adult who has felt similar pressure and risen to the pressure, I can relate.

As a mom who has children that will follow in your footsteps and compete in the same way, I am concerned.

As an educator who pushes my students to always try their best and to believe in themselves, I understand.

I believe it is my responsibility to apologize for the system we have built for you to live in, to grow in, but also to compete in. So, as happy as I am for you that you have reached this milestone, I am also very sorry.

I believe we have found ourselves with the highest rate of depression and anxiety in teenagers in history due to the constant comparison, ranking and competition … Thus, with the increase of cell phone addiction and social media use, it is a recipe for disaster.

This message is not meant to discourage or undervalue your accomplishments. Please believe me when I say your family and coaches and teachers are incredibly proud of you.

It is a warning against continuing to compare your accomplishments to your peers.

My purpose is also to acknowledge if you may feel a bit empty on such a joyous occasion. It may just be that you have experienced trauma the past four years that make even joyous events a little less enjoyable.

The best advice I can give you is to stop competing for the sake of resume-building and to start pursuing passion.

Find clubs and activities that you absolutely love and spend your time participating in them. Lead or start a club if necessary.

Devote yourself to self-improvement out of love for yourself, not out of desire to outshine anyone else.

I’m not against competition. My older daughter loves soccer and competes regularly on the pitch. Every game, when she laces up her boots, her desire is to win and to make herself proud. Furthermore, my younger daughter competes in dance. Every competition, she takes care of herself in order to give her best to her teammates and herself.

Equally important, both girls know that her dad and I are there to support them. To ensure that, when time runs out and the music stops, no matter what happens, they are deeply loved by us.

You see, I’m in favor of competing in sports or an activity out of passion, not a Facebook post.

It is important to set high goals, to show up, and to work hard. But it’s also OK if you are second place in an interview, or need to change directions. Give yourself grace.

Even more important than pursuing passions is loving the people in your corner: your family, your friends, your parish, your community. When you are busy putting your head down and working on yourself, you will be better prepared to love and to help other people.

Graduates, you make us proud, not just with your resumes, but with your potential. As long as you pursue your passions and love the people in your life, you will most certainly find success.

But the secret is happiness is only found outside of the comparison trap.

Congratulations, Class of 2023!

Alpena native Jeremy Speer is the publisher of The Courier in Findlay, Ohio, the Sandusky (Ohio) Register, The Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, the Norwalk (Ohio) Reflector, and Review Times in Fostoria, Ohio. He can be reached at jeremyspeer@thecourier.com.


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