It is unlikely that I would be invited to give the commencement address at the local high school, let alone Harvard or MIT - I haven't, you know, sold ten million books and become a household name - but if I were to address a class of young people about to step into the great unknown...
I remember you. I remember being you. From the audience, clad in your graduation finery and looking up at the podium, I might seem very old to you - old, with silver hair and tiny crow's feet at the corner of my eyes - and you might well think, standing at this particular threshold, that you're invincible, that age will never wither you nor failure bring you down.
Both will happen, sooner or later.
None of us can run from the days that pile up in our lives and eventually begin to weigh on us and slow us down, leaching the colour from our hair and painting lines on our skin. And we shouldn't really want to. Every one of those gray hairs, every one of those lines, will have been gotten by living a life a day at a time - it only remains to be seen how they will be accumulated. I don't know what lies in store for you - but I can tell you this about myself. The lines around my eyes are laugh lines, for I laughed freely and often, and I laughed because I knew I was loved - and you are all loved, and will be loved by more people as you step out into the real world and look around you. A few of the lines etched in my forehead have been left there by the dark times, and those too will come. The colour from my hair I have left sprinkled on the days of childhood and youth, and it is perhaps because I did that I can remember them so clearly, and with so much contentment, pleasure, respect... and regret. Yes, there are always a few. There are always roads we do not choose to walk down and then wonder, years later, what it would have been like if we had - and they hold a scrap of our spirit, those unwalked roads, the whispered words "What if?..." lingering in the air. But it's okay to make mistakes. You are allowed. Everyone does it. It's human nature.
And there is no life that does not encounter failure at least once along its road. You are allowed to be wary of it, and to work towards minimising its consequences - but you only have to be terrified by it if you have no belief in your ability to overcome adversity - and from where you are right now, that ability has been given to you. It's knowledge. It's education. It's an awareness of what goes on around you, and of what you can do to affect it.
I owe you an apology, standing here today. When I was you, someone in the generation preceding mine passed MY generation the baton of the guardianship of the Earth - because it does not belong to us, not ever, it belongs to our children. My own generation didn't do so well. It is you, up and coming, learning ever new things, working together, to whom I am passing the baton on today - not because I want to get rid of my responsibilities but because from here on the Earth belongs to YOUR children, too.
There's a novel out there called "The Adoration of Jenna Fox". Author Mary E. Person's heroine Jenna wakes from a post-traumatic coma to a changed world. Jenna muses, "...the second woman has been elected rpesident... the twelfth planet has been named in the solar system... the last wild polar bear has died. I slept through it all."
Do not sleep through it all, young folks. Vote for that president. Go find that planet. Save the polar bears.
Put lines on your faces, the tracks of a life well lived. Scatter the colour of youth that still clings to your hair over the days of your lives, and leave a trace of your passing.
Take this life. Take this Earth. Plant your conqueror's flag amongst the stars.
It's up to you now. It's your time. Go forth and live, and conquer.