Something to SEA: My Gift to the Class of 2016

20160612 Blog Photo New Fonts

My senior students will graduate this week, and 7 of them have been in my class for 3 years…that’s a total of 540 days. I did the math: a little under 25% of their entire time in school from Kindergarten through 12th grade was spent in my classroom. If you know me, you should be impressed that it only took me 15 minutes to figure that out.

Obviously, saying goodbye is bittersweet, and it usually involves a tear or two. Alright, maybe a thousand.

During our last class together, we watched a slideshow of photos from the year, some of which I swear were only taken yesterday.

As I looked around the room at each of the soon-to-be graduates, I saw an 18-year old me reflected in their eyes.

Me, ready to start the next chapter with little guidance and a lot of big dreams.

Me, the one believing in the idealistic phrase, “The world is my oyster.”

Except that I hate oysters.

I admitted out loud that I’m a little envious. Each one of them has no real idea of the realm of possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead. Part of me would love to trade places with just one for the chance to do it all over again, but this time, do it RIGHT and make my life spectacular.

Alas, that isn’t possible, and I mentally berate myself because I’ve fallen into that trap again of thinking what could have…..

Stop. Just Stop it. I am wasting my time and energy.

I refocused and looked at each of them again, one at a time, in our final circle of unity. This year, there was a different feeling among the circle filled with diverse faces and different personalities.  I am comforted and encouraged by these faces. I see Hope. Compassion. Empathy. Kindness. Strength. Encouragement.

Maybe I can’t do it all over again, but what I can do is give them the gift of my words. I can share lessons I have learned, some basic rules for living that they might need to hear, along with tidbits of wisdom I’ve collected from my experiences, the things I would believe and do if I did have the chance to do it over again, things I wish someone had told me when I was in their shoes.

Thus begins my gift to each graduate of the Class of 2016, no matter what classroom you were in…

Today begins the rest of your life.

It’s okay if you don’t know what you want that to be yet.

It’s okay if you are completely freaked out right now, hiding your fear under your mortarboard and tassel, smiling amid the rush of anxiety, pushing your panic aside as you receive hugs and congratulations.

Trust me, it will come together in time.

First of all, do not be who the world tells you to be. Do not be who your parents or significant other expects you to be.  Be who YOU are.

If you don’t know who that is, close your eyes and sit still.  Feel that presence? That is your soul. THAT is who you are.

And it’s okay if who you are changes once or a thousand times.

It’s YOUR life, and this is the only life you have.

Live for today, with an eye on tomorrow. In other words, make sure to treasure each and every day while doing something the future you will thank you for, because life can change in an instant.

Think about that “LOOK AT ME!” person on your feed who posts over 85 selfies a day from sitting in traffic, the bathroom, the beach, the store, and after a workout, along with vague statements eliciting nothing but attention and another 85 photos of what they ate.

Irritating, right?

Don’t be that person.

Be smart with what you do post on social media, the internet, and what you text to others. NOTHING is ever private, no matter what your security settings might be.

Keep this in mind: Big Brother is ALWAYS watching in this unfortunate culture of public shaming.

Speaking of that, don’t be one of those shamers. A shamer a judgmental elitist who spouts his or her verdict, usually by commenting on social media posts, without being asked for their opinion and without considering all sides.  Anyone who disagrees is flat out wrong, and usually then becomes the target of additional scathing remarks from the original shamer and its tribe of close-minded followers.

You are better than that. Cultivate compassion instead of judgment.

Your worth is not determined by “likes,” which akin to the shamer, is nothing more than an empty validation from someone who has nothing else better to do than waste time by consuming media and data plans, rather than create his or her own experiences.

Don’t let the media or society dictate what your hair should look like, what you should wear, or how much you should weigh.

Style your hair the way YOU want it to look. Wear what YOU want to wear. Weight what you weigh, and if you want a donut or tofu or cotton candy, eat it.

Some days, you will need that donut. Eat it with zero guilt, and eat another one too if you so desire.

It’s okay to say NO without explaining yourself.

Remember to not only nourish your mind and body, but also to nourish your soul. Feed it. Embrace it. Take care of it, and it will take care of you.

Follow your gut instinct. It’s usually right.

Never stop learning.

Don’t waste a minute of your precious time here on earth feeding the trolls, bitching about things that you have no control over (like the weather), gossiping about others, or cultivating negativity.

If you can change it, CHANGE IT. If not, move on.  Focus on the BIG PICTURE of life and on what truly matters.

Never demean or belittle anyone. Ever. Even if they demean or belittle you.

Be kind to everyone.

It’s okay to admit that you were wrong, or that you made a mistake.

Respect the fact that others are entitled to their opinion, just as you are entitled to yours. RESPECT those who differ from you. Believe it or not, we CAN disagree peacefully.  Always remember these wise words from Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

You WILL make mistakes. You WILL lose. Not all situations can be fixed.

But guess what?

You WILL make it through the toughest times and the darkest days. What matters most is how you react to the situation, and perhaps, find the lesson. Sometimes it takes years for that lesson to surface, and once it does, you will be a better person as a result of your experience.

Take responsibility for your actions, and don’t play the blame game, because the one who ultimately loses the blame game is you. Every single time.

Do not be held hostage by a zip code. There is a huge world out there, filled with all sorts of exciting and interesting places, people, cultures, and creatures. Try to see as much of it as possible, especially while you are young.

Don’t mistake the value of THINGS. THINGS mean nothing. Trust me, nobody will remember your must-have china pattern, your perfectly expensive sofa, the shoes you wore while bar hopping with your friends, or your tinted windows or game system. Even you.

The only thing THINGS do is waste your money.

EXPERIENCES mean everything. Unplug and experience LIFE while being present.

You WILL remember seeing the Great Wall of China, the feel of the sand under your feet while searching for the perfect seashell, laughing with your friends while you run through a rainstorm, and riding that real rollercoaster instead of virtually building one in a game.

Look at it this way: at the end of your journey here on Earth, you will take your experiences with you, whereas every single THING you bought or accumulated will be left behind…including your tinted windows.

Spend some time in nature without your phone, even if it’s a quick walk by yourself every now and then.

Not everything has to be documented.  Sometimes, the mental pictures and memories stored in your brain are more meaningful than files stored on your device.

Your experiences cannot be purchased in the APP store, either.

It’s also okay to sit and just be every now and then, without experiencing or doing anything.

Let go of regret. Let go of guilt. Let go of worry. Let go of fear.

The worst rarely, if ever, happens anyway.

Find something good in each day, no matter how hard you have to look. It’s there. And at the end of the day, write down 3 things you are thankful for (make it 4…remember to be thankful for the day itself).

Erase the following phrase from your vocabulary, as it serves no purpose whatsoever: what might have been….

It bears a second mention that…


Treasure it. Treasure each day, each hour, each minute, each second.

I am reminded of an eye-opening post written by a high school classmate of mine who unfortunately passed away earlier this year from an illness. Let these words from Scotty D. inspire you…

“We really take the small things in this life for granted and forget how amazing and fragile our bodies and this planet is…I sure have learned to appreciate even the most simplest things that each day presents, the sun, a hummingbird, the feel of grass between my toes, and I could go on…there is enough sorrow in the world and we all have to play the hand we are dealt. What I want people to do is not take life for granted!! Go outside, take a deep breath, kiss the ground, touch the snow, ride a bike, have a swim, catch a wave, or many, walk around the block, jump up and down, spin around, just do something, BECAUSE YOU CAN!!! “The man who lives life to the fullest has the least fear of death”.’ – Scott Domanic, posted on 1/22/14.

Finally, always remember that the world owes you nothing.

Instead, YOU OWE THE WORLD, as the world needs YOUR unique talents, footsteps, contributions, and story, which will one day inspire a whole new generation of high school graduates.

Please…above everything else, follow Jack’s advice:


Congratulations to the Class of 2016!

With my utmost respect and gratitude,

Jill Ocone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s