Dana LaMon

Motivational Speaker and Author



On May 19, I attended graduation ceremonies for my youngest child, Linnea, who received both a bachelor of science degree in math and a bachelor of arts degree in global studies from Carnegie Mellon University. I am pleased with her achievements. Linnea has already begun a master's program for teaching.


Because I volunteer at SOAR (Students On Academic Rise), a local early-college high school, I attended the graduation ceremonies for some of the students who were members of the SOAR Speech Club. On May 24 was their high school graduation; on May 31 they graduated from Antelope Valley College with associate degrees. Next year my students will attend Case Western, Princeton, Stanford, and U.C.L.A. They are excited about the adventures and opportunities that lie ahead.


Attending these ceremonies to celebrate with my daughter and my students reminded me of my graduation ceremonies. We called it commencement when I graduated from Frances Blend Elementary School in January 1965; leaving the school where all the students were blind to attend classes in junior high school with sighted students offered the prospect of exciting new relationships and experiences. In January 1968 I graduated from Washington Irving Junior High School; one of two graduation speakers, I talked about charting the course of our future. In June 1970, it was a thrill to be one of eighteen honor students graduating from John Marshall High School in Los Angeles; my plan was to attend Yale. Though I was not an honor student at Yale, I will always remember how it felt to participate in the traditional Yale graduation ceremonies. Graduating from U.S.C. law school drew a sigh of relief; it was over. I had attended formal education for nineteen consecutive years. That was thirty-six years ago.


From what are you graduating this year? What adventures and opportunities will you have in the next four years?


When we were children, we had little choice. We had to go to school; hence, we were definitely going to graduate ... From elementary school. ... From junior high (or middle) school. As teens, we were given more power to choose. Still, most of us chose to finish high school and graduate. Higher education? Well, not everyone would choose that option. Some went to work. Some went to trade school. Others went to college. Still fewer would go on to graduate or professional school after college graduation. Then the vast majority of us stopped our formal education and, as a result, had no more graduations. And therein lies the problem.


For most of our adult lives--say, age twenty-five to age sixty- five, we fall into a routine that involves work, rearing a family, buying stuff, and paying bills. From these we rarely graduate. We don't grow much, if at all, during adulthood because we stop doing the things that promote growth. The result is a feeling of dissatisfaction because there are no milestones for us to celebrate.


We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have the choice of paths to take, and we choose the rut. We abandon the things that we sought after as youngsters: Knowledge, opportunities, challenges, firsts, adventure. We listen to Societal Expectation, who advises, "Settle down." We follow the counsel of Internal Prompting to seek security and save for retirement.


It's not too late for you to enroll in a program that will lead to graduation. Here's what you can do:


Break your routine. Habits are beneficial to have when there is something you must do. When you develop the habit, you don't have to think about it. You respond to a cue with an established routine to obtain the reward. Habits for exercising, personal hygiene, and paying financial obligations are good to have.


On the other hand, if it is optional, change the habit. If it is optional, you should think about what you are doing. Consider whether you should continue doing it. Assess whether there is a better alternative.


To get started, identify one habit that you have. It might be the way you go to work. It might be watching a particular television program. It might be what you do on Saturday afternoon.


Think about why you are doing it. If the benefit is one you want to retain, you can change the habit by finding a different way to get the same benefit. For example, if you enjoy a certain TV show every Sunday night, you can change the habit of watching by recording the show to watch on Tuesday night and spend Sunday night visiting a friend.


If the habit provides no desirable benefit, change what you do altogether. You cannot simply stop doing the "bad" activity; you must substitute with another activity that gives you a benefit that you desire. The cue will not change. Saturday afternoon will come every seven days. You can, however, change what you do on Saturday afternoon.


Once you change one habit, you can work on another. Who knows what avenues you might take once you turn out of the rut your habits have created.


Develop a lifelong learning program. You must never stop learning. Use the resources that are available to increase your knowledge on a particular topic. You can read books and articles. You can research via the internet. You can attend public lectures. You might even take classes at a community college. You need not work toward a degree; work toward knowledge. Once you become knowledgeable on a topic, pick a new one. Keep learning.


The result of increasing your knowledge is that you may discover new interests and skills, other activities for entertainment or vacations, or new employment or business ventures.


Broaden your experiences. Similar to planning lifelong learning, pick a new activity, and do it. "I've never done it before" cannot be your excuse. If you had done it before, it wouldn't be new. Besides, you could have said "I've never done it before" about everything you do now. There was a time when it was your first time.


Be safe. Be legal. Be frugal. In other words, don't try something new that will have lasting adverse consequences on your health, your legal status, and/or your financial position.


Let go. If you are holding on to something, pleasurable or not, that is keeping you from graduating to another level, let it go. It could be a job, a relationship, a commitment, a principle, or stuff. (I encourage holding to commitments and principles, but not when they interfere with your growth and development. In such case, you should re-evaluate them.)


You may be holding on for security, but what benefit is security if it thwarts your growth.


You may be holding on because of fear of what may happen if you let go. Well, facing tomorrow always takes faith. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. We still choose to face it. You will miss the full benefit of tomorrow by holding on to yesterday.


If you can't let go, figure out a way to take it to graduation with you.


Change your environment. The observation of my son Anton says it better than I can, "When you change your environment, you change your opportunities." Your environment is comprised of the place where you are and the people and things around you. Move to a different place or hang out with different people or get rid of things that are in the way. You can change any or all of the environmental components and you will change your opportunities.


Plan the graduation. When the students started SOAR High school, they planned to graduate. When Linnea started Carnegie Mellon, she planned to graduate. As a result of the planning, they got through the tough courses, the long nights of studying, and the drama of relationships.


Whatever action you choose to take, plan your success. Establish goals and set milestones so you have something to celebrate. Celebrate some achievement every two, three, or four years like you did in your teen-age years. Every time you celebrate, challenge yourself with new goals. Make them a little harder. When you do, the celebration will be a little sweeter.