“Students, families, President, Governors: Thank you. If ever there was one word that could hold a lifetime of advice, it is this: Yield.”
I stand here today humbled. Humbled by the invitation to speak to you, the graduating class of 2015. Humbled as a Canine who never attended the University of West Terrier or, indeed, any institution of higher learning. Humbled as a Canine who has, in many ways, lived by her wits and, by doing so, has found a home here among your esteemed educators.
When I first received the invitation from your President and Governors, I was overwhelmed. It seemed like the most daunting of tasks, thinking of something of substance to tell the young as they embark on adult life. While as an advice columnist and researcher, I was used to telling you what I’d observed and experienced in my lifetime, I couldn’t imagine what I could tell you about what you may observe and experience in your lifetime.
Then, after much deliberation, I realized that some of the best advice I could offer was, in fact, no advice at all. Instead, I’ve chosen to give you the gift of “food for thought” and to allow you, yourselves, to ponder your own future.
What I’m going to say to you today may seem simple, even trite, perhaps obvious, or even irrelevant. But as you move through life, I can almost guarantee, you will gain an increasing understanding of its relevance. So, my only piece of advice is this: keep this short list handy and refer to it from time to time. You will be amazed at how these few phrases impart even more wisdom as you age.
What I have to offer you today can be summed up in five phrases—and one word. These are phrases that I have culled from—gasp—the Human world. That is, after all, my area of study.
During my travels and, particularly, during my recent book tour, I had the good fortune to observe the many pieces of advice that Humans post openly in their world. I’ve discovered that Humans are quite clever in the way they plaster their highways and byways with wise sayings. I have selected a few of these to offer you today and I will demonstrate their relevance to your own life.
- Always secure your own [oxygen] mask first before assisting others
I confess, I was confused by this sign before I was able to glean its true meaning. It is not, as it appears, a call to abandon altruism. Rather, it is a warning to all living beings to make sure that they are in a position to follow through on any help they offer others. Make sure your own foundation is strong before you make promises and if it is not, strengthen it first. Don’t abandon a job halfway because you run out of resources. Plan ahead.
- No Parking
Stagnation is the enemy of all living beings. You must keep moving, physically, mentally, emotionally. Don’t settle for comfort. Yes, enjoy the fruits of your labour and of your luck. But don’t stop there. There is always much work to be done in the world and never enough time for any one generation to do it.
- No Diving Allowed
This may seem almost the opposite of what I’ve just said, but it is not. And, I admit, the Human fear of failure is evident here. But after a bit more thought, I realized that this was only a warning against precipitous action. Make sure you’ve done your research, have a backup plan and a support system. Make sure the water is deep enough before you dive in.
If ever there was one word that could hold a lifetime of advice, it is this: Yield. Particularly in The Park, where the lives of so many different species converge, there is no better piece of advice that one could give than to yield. Step aside. Let others pass. Make sure your fellow citizens get what they need. You will never regret it.
- This bag is not a toy
As I’m sure you can see, this phrase can have a variety of meanings, but none is a warning against play. And while the true meaning of this phrase seemed elusive to me for some time, I have come to understand it more fully in the last year. Play is good—and necessary— but make sure you understand the boundaries of its arena. Some things, though not all, warrant seriousness, even gravity. Be sure you can distinguish one from the other.
- The objects in the mirror are closer than they appear
And now, perhaps the most important of all. Humans have a phrase, “History repeats itself.” The sad fact is that it does. It is incumbent upon us to understand that whatever gains we make— as individuals, as species, or as a larger group— may be undone in an instant if we are not vigilant. Look in the mirror often. Understand the past. Understand where you and your ancestors came from and what their lives were like. And never forget it. History is not fiction. The horrors of the past can easily creep back up on us to become the horrors of the present. Be attuned: those footsteps are never very far behind.
And, so, I conclude here, leaving you with a few things to think about as you move forward in your lives.
To you, the class of 2015, I wish everything good: health, happiness, the chance to pursue your goals, and to live as long a life as your species allows. Congratulations!”
This address was delivered by Noreen at the University of West Terrier commencement ceremonies on June 1, 2015.