Graduation, big life choices, and my version of the Sunscreen Song

This past Sunday I endured 4 hours in the sweltering Palo Alto sun to watch my little brother graduate from Stanford. Well, fake-graduate; since he still has a full year of XC/track eligibility left, he'll remain on The Farm for 1 more year. But he and his teammates decided to walk this spring to graduate with their class, so my family and I sat in the stands and proudly cheered as Brendan made the memorable walk across the stage.

Attending Brendan's graduation reminded me of my UC Davis graduation, which doesn't feel so long ago. I'm so used to saying "I'm a recent college grad," but it's not so recent anymore... it's hard to believe that a full year has passed. A lot has happened in these past 365 days... but that's another blog post.

 Fake Graduation (yes, that's a track spike on my cap)

Fake Graduation (yes, that's a track spike on my cap)

I actually participated in not one, but two graduation ceremonies. I didn't intend to walk across the stage twice. I participated in UCD's Fall 2009 Commencement because I had hoped to qualify for NCAA's in June 2010, which conflicted with the Spring Commencement ceremonies. Not wanting to miss my chance to celebrate the end of college, I fake-graduated in the fall. I must admit, walking across the stage and getting my diploma two quarters premature felt a bit anti-climactic, knowing that I still had 30 more pages of my honors thesis to write before I was really done with college.

As it turns out, I didn't qualify for NCAA's, but in the wake of my dashed dreams, I found out that I was awarded UC Davis's Outstanding Senior Woman Award. The award is presented at the Spring Commencement ceremony, which meant I'd be participating in Graduation Round 2. While I would've rather been running 25 laps around the track, getting an award on the stage at graduation was a good consolation prize. My wonderful family sat through the hours-long ceremony for the second time in 6 months (thank you x 100!) and when I walked across the stage for the second and final time, it finally felt real.

 Celebrating real graduation with college running friends

Celebrating real graduation with college running friends

A good friend of mine recently skipped her college graduation in order to chase a USA Nationals qualifying time. Unfortunately, the race didn't go as she'd hoped, graduation has come and gone, and she's understandably frustrated that she passed up her chance to don the cap and gown. Good thing I graduated twice, enough for the both of us ;) But in all seriousness, I can understand why she's bummed.

My friend now finds herself in the same spot I was a year ago: finished with collegiate eligibility but with unfinished business on the track. The real world awaiting, but a running dream still alive within. With outside pressure coming from all sides, I imagine she must feel like she's being pulled in a hundred different directions, trying to please everyone (I must admit, I'm guilty of pressuring her - I've been relentless in my quest to get her to give post-collegiate running a shot.) She's got a major decision in front of her.

What will she do? Well first, she'll probably kill me for writing about her in my blog (I beg forgiveness!). But really, I don't know what she's going to decide. Choosing to run post-college is a tough choice, one I grappled with for weeks. Without a training group or a major sponsor, my first few weeks in San Francisco were incredibly difficult and I frequently doubted my decision. But the past year has proven I made the right choice for me. What's right for her, only she can tell.

That doesn't mean I haven't been peppering her with advice. Advice seems to be free-flowing this time of year, as wise souls counsel young graduates in commencement ceremonies across the country. Remember Baz Luhrmann's popular graduation song, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"? It starts like this...

"Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99, if I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…I will dispense this advice now."

(For your reading pleasure, Baz Luhrmann's complete song lyrics can be found here:

I always liked this song, so I've copied some of Baz Luhrmann's pearls of wisdom below). And accompanying the lyrics is some unsolicited-but-meant-with-love advice to my dear friend who is currently at a crossroads. One year beyond graduation, with 365 days of "real world" experience under my belt, in my wise old age of 24, I give to you my version of the Sunscreen Song:

"Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth."

Enjoy this next year of your life - you're only young once and you've got 60+ years ahead of you to do all the amazing things you have planned. While you're young, give yourself the opportunity to pursue a dream. See how fast you can be and have fun doing the thing you love. How many people can say they've really, truly gone after their dreams? Not many. Chase this running dream while you're young, so you have no regrets later.

"Do one thing every day that scares you."

Pursuing a dream is scary. You'll doubt yourself at times and wonder if you've made the right decision. You'll have a bad race and say "F*** it, I give up. Time to go get a real job." But then you'll have an amazingly joyful run where you run so fast you feel like you're flying, and you're reminded why you're chasing this Olympic Trials goal.

"Don’t worry about the future."

Choosing to run comes with trade-offs: you forgo traveling the world, grad school, a real job with a real salary, etc. But it's only temporary - all those things will still be there for you once you're done running. You're not giving up those things forever, you're just postponing them. The future will be right there waiting for you once you hang up your spikes.

"Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, and some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t."

Don't feel bad about not knowing what's next for you. You've got the rest of your life to figure it out. For now, just think about one year at a time.

"Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…what ever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s."

Maybe we'll qualify for the Trials, maybe we won't. Maybe you'll break 10:00 and I'll break 33:00, maybe we won't. For the most part, our choices will determine if we make it to Eugene or not, but like it or not, some of it is just pure luck.

But no matter what, chasing this dream makes for an interesting story to tell your grandkids, and a memory you'll look back on fondly.

"The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself."

You've got a million people telling you what to do, all of whom think they know best. I'm guilty of it, I'm sorry. But throw all that out the window and take a minute to step back to listen to what you truly want. Do what makes you happy, because that's what really matters.

Run joyfully :)

"And trust me on the sunscreen."

Good luck with this decision, and much love.