Every year at this time, as we hear of high school and college graduations, my thoughts turn to the speeches and accolades wishing graduates success and giving advice for their future. Although I have never repeated one of the columns I have written, this column, first published in 2006, wishes more than success to our graduates and still rings true today. I just could not say it better than I did then.

“ I have often thought that graduates would be better served if they heard fewer words about success, prosperity and celebrity or fame. Our society has put a veneer on what is considered a successful life.

If I were giving one of those graduation speeches, I would wish our graduates other experiences. I would wish they could experience poverty, at least for a short time, so they could learn how difficult it is to make it in a world where money is king. I would wish they understand the struggles and unfair choices made by our working poor, the choice between buying food or gas to get to work. Only in this way could they appreciate and share their prosperity. I would wish they would experience prejudice, for only then could they grow in a better understanding of our differences and appreciate the diversity of our world. Compassion and caring would grow because to experience something is to always remember and relate to those who have the same experiences.

I would wish them the understanding of poor health so they would appreciate and sustain the health they now enjoy. I would wish they understood how wonderful and marvelous the workings of the human body and not destroy it by making wrong choices, choices that may affect the health of their future children.

I would hope that they would use resources wisely and correct some of the overuse of past generations. Conserving and sustaining our resources would be a priority so they would be there for their children’s children. I wish they could deny themselves and not always look out for number one. It’s not that I think success is wrong, but sometimes success, for its own sake, leaves much to be desired. Success can be measured in many ways, but mere dollars and cents, celebrity or honors are not the best measure.

Success should be measured by the individual. Success is a deep feeling of satisfaction with one’s self and your station in life. That person may not be seen profiled in The Wall-Street Journal or a focus of 60-Minutes, but they are happy and successful in their own right.

They may be stay-at-home moms who spend their days giving their children the core values and character traits they will need for a meaningful life. It could be a small farmer, a garbage man or the manager at McDonalds. If they love their roles, are doing the best with what they have and show compassion and caring for their fellowman that measures success no matter what they may earn or how big their house may be. Many join the military to guard for our nation’s freedom, others become caregivers of a family member; are they less successful for not reaching for a career or financial gain? Is it wrong to reach for goals or strive for excellence? Of course not. But, we tend to put worldly values on success and often put burdens on our young people to perform to our expectations rather than their own callings. We expect everyone to have our goals and requirements so they can reach our version of success.

But, if you look around, you can see that the definition of success is as varied as the people of our community. So is success measured by how much money we make, or how high we are in the hierarchy of society, or our celebrity? I’m sure the answers would be as varied as the numbers of people who live here. One thing I do know. Find a man or woman who is satisfied with what and where he/she is, cognizant of his fellowman and of their needs and you will find a successful and happy person. Find someone grounded, solid and firm in his/her faith and ask them what they think it means to be successful. I can guarantee you it will not be money or celebrity. We need to remember that Webster’s lists more than money, position or honors as the meaning of success. It also means to thrive and prosper and grow and to attain something we have attempted.” Sometimes our lives do not go as we have planned. Sometimes those who choose a career change midstream for something else. But whatever your path in life, whatever you do, don’t measure yourself against what the world calls success. If you do, you will fall short of what you really can become.

All of us remember going away from home, spreading our wings and taking off on our own flyways. We all would admit there were some surprises along the way. Then, as now, it was just the beginning of the rest of the story.


Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer’s daughter and now as a farmer’s wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.