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A mother’s message: As you say goodbye to Queen’s…

A mother’s message: As you say goodbye to Queen’s…

My youngest daughter just finished her last day of classes at Queen’s undergrad. She’s sold the furniture from the room at her student house. She’s studying for exams and preparing to move on to her next adventure. Across campus, many Queen’s students will soon say goodbye to this special place. I thought I’d write a few notes for my daughter and share them here, hoping some others might find them useful.

Dear Lydia,

As you pack up and say goodbye to Queen’s…

Step out in confidence. For four years, you’ve enjoyed being in one place and you’ve loved your time here. It hasn’t been everything you imagined because a pandemic intervened. But you’ve known roughly how each month would unfold. Now you’re not sure what’s ahead. But this place has prepared you well. You’re going into the world with a degree from Queen’s. That’s a huge gift that you can use proudly.

Aim to do what you love. I know you love working with older people. I’m guessing you’ll make that passion into a career somehow, and there will always be great needs in that field. That reminds me of a line from Frederick Buechner (an American writer whom your dad and I have enjoyed). Buechner wrote: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Don’t stress about not being able to see very far ahead. I’ve often found that I can only see the next little step in the path through life. On a couple of occasions, I couldn’t even see that. The path seemed to stop altogether. But usually, you can figure out one small thing to do next. Every job you do, every course you take will add up to a life of experiences that shape you and teach you.

You will have to create your own route. There is no limit to the number of paths you could follow into a future life that will be meaningful and happy. Don’t worry if the route meanders a bit. I have often found that the detours I’ve taken have been the most important parts of my journey in life. Some of them have been painful and not of my choosing, but they have always made me stronger and maybe a bit smarter.

Don’t judge yourself by other people’s expectations. It can be so tempting to measure yourself by what your peers are doing, whether they are finding a partner, having children, not having children, traveling, studying, buying a house, making money, not making money. Only you can decide what is best for you. Trust your instincts. Don’t get tangled up in trying to impress other people by the choices you make.

Expect the unexpected. When I was your age, I would have never believed I would get to be a federal minister of health, or a dean of health sciences one day. If I’d been aiming to do either of those, we probably wouldn’t have gone to work in Niger for a decade. But somehow those amazing opportunities happened, unexpectedly. That phenomenon reminds me of the words of Henry David Thoreau, in his book called Walden where he wrote: I learned this, at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Thoreau’s words don’t take into consideration that “success” often depends on an enormous amount of unearned privilege. But the general sentiment is still true. Follow your dreams and your values, and you will be amazed where life takes you.

When in doubt, cling to your values. I wish I could predict the wonderful and the difficult times that lie ahead for you. It would be tempting to steer you in the direction of the wonderful parts and manipulate events so you could avoid difficult times. But that’s not how life works. When you were young, I couldn’t prevent every scrape or bruise of your childhood, just as I can’t prevent some hard days ahead for any of our kids. The one piece of advice I can offer is to know who you are. When hard things happened to me, I always reverted to the values and principles that my parents taught me. I hope your dad and I have helped you find your own set of values that will guide you when you’re not sure where to turn.

Know that you are loved, no matter what. We haven’t decided what to get you as a grad gift. But there is one gift I want you to have and hang on to. That is, the knowledge that no matter where life takes you, no matter what career path you follow, no matter what choices you make along the way, your dad and I will love you forever. Your value does not depend on any title, any degree, how much money you make, nor how popular you are. We are enormously proud of you. We will never stop loving you.

Come back often. I’m so happy that you got to spend four years at Queen’s. It’s a magical place in the loveliest setting on the shores of Lake Ontario. From what I’ve learned, it becomes part of you forever, always drawing you back for another visit. That’s good news for me because I’ll be here waiting for you.

It’s just a few more weeks until convocation – in person!!! With any luck, I’ll get to be up on stage and see you receive your degree. I’ll be the one unable to hold back my tears of joy. Congratulations on your graduation from Queen’s University. I can hardly wait to see where you go from here.

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