Good afternoon everyone.
I am pleased to be here today to say a few words to and for the class of 2023. I will do my best to honor this special day where we celebrate our graduates and all that they have accomplished.
Those of you who were my students know that I love telling stories.
And today, I want to tell you all one final story. It’s about tattoos and time travel.
I have a tattoo on my lower left leg. It’s a black and gray cross with a tribal pattern that goes all the way around my calf. Some of you, I’m sure have seen it, but for those of you who haven’t….I’ll show you.
I got this tattoo right after I turned eighteen. I’d wanted a tattoo for a while, but my mom was totally against the idea. Any time I brought it up, she would throw up her hands in frustration and say “just think of how it will look when you’re old and wrinkly.”
“No matter how much you like it now, you won’t like it when you’re older.”
So I did what any 18 year old would do in that situation- I ignored her and got the tattoo anyway. I would just keep it a secret for a little while. Problem solved. She couldn’t stay mad forever, right?
So I scheduled the appointment. I was sitting in the tattoo chair, listening to the hum of the needle, and I was watching the ink get pushed into my skin where it would make a permanent mark on my body. It was in that moment, that my phone vibrated. It was a text from my dad.
I was gripped by a slight panic as I read, “today’s your mom’s birthday. Dinner at 6.”
Not only did I get a tattoo against my mother’s wishes, I had scheduled the appointment on the day, which I had totally forgotten, was her birthday.
When I went home that evening, the tattoo was covered by my pant leg. We all sat in the living room, chit chatting. My mom was next to me on the couch. I was reclined, and I had my legs extended straight out in front of me.
I wish I could remember what I said. Maybe I was being sarcastic, and she smacked me for it. Maybe I was being funny, and instead of slapping her own knee in laughter, she hit me instead. That is a detail that I’ve lost to time.
What I can remember is the horror that I felt as I watched her hand, in slow motion, land with a smack right on my very, very fresh tattoo.
I gritted my teeth and stifled a groan. I still wonder if she noticed my pain, or if she knew where I’d been that morning. I suspected then, as I do now, that she knew exactly what she was doing.
I didn’t wait too long after that to show my parents, and they got over it pretty quickly. It’s a good thing too. It was a hot summer, and I was tired of not being able to wear shorts.
But you know, it turns out my mother was right. She is probably watching this, so I’ll say it once more nice and loud. Mom was right.
I don’t like the design of this tattoo as much now that I’m older. I’ve thought about getting it covered up with something else, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
The tattoo is a reminder of who I used to be, of the choices I made when I was an entirely different person. The tattoo is a connection to a past self, to memories that are too quickly losing their clarity.
As each of you enter this time of transition between youth and adulthood, I want you to know that one day, sooner than you think, you will wake up to the realization that the person that you are in this moment feels like someone you met only briefly and in passing.
I imagine sometimes that I can jump in a time machine and travel back to meet my 18 year old self. Would we like each other? Would he think I was a nerd? Would I think he was immature? Could we, would we accept one another? Would he make different choices after seeing what he became?
Would I try to talk him out of getting this tattoo?
I don’t think I would.
It’s important, for me, to remember that I was once a younger man, that I will very soon be an older one.
And that is what I want you to understand most about the moment you are in this evening and the part of your life that you are about to enter.
My younger self made his mark on my skin, sure. But he also made his mark on my life. He worked hard and studied hard. He did the best he could for me. He is ultimately the reason that I am here speaking to you all today.
But he was imperfect. He made mistakes. And so will you. And so have we all. The marks on our skin, and on our lives, are there to remind us of where we have been and who we used to be. They grant us the perspective to see how far we’ve come, how much we have grown.
And you have come so far, grown so much.
As you cross over this stage, understand that you will now need to set your own course, to make your own decisions, to choose which marks to make on your own lives. You have a responsibility to your future selves to choose wisely, and I have every confidence that you will.
When you grab your diploma, throw your cap into the air, and enjoy a moment of celebration, please know that I am, your loved ones are, this community is so very proud of you.
Congratulations to you, the class of 2023. I look forward to seeing all that you accomplish.