U.S. Sen. Angus King gives the commencement address to nearly 50 graduates at Carrabec High School in Anson in 2019. Columnist Amy Calder has never given a commencement address, but she nevertheless has some sage advice for seniors this graduation season. Her life priorities include sleeping, a lot. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

If you asked who spoke at my high school graduation, I couldn’t tell you.

I don’t even know if we had a speaker 49 years ago, in 1974.

I have a pretty good memory and I’m thinking if someone did speak, any advice imparted didn’t amount to much.

They say we remember the things that are meaningful to us; we forget those that aren’t.

As a newspaper reporter, I’ve covered many high school and college graduations over 35 years and listened to a lot of speeches; some thoughtful, some mediocre and others downright insipid.

I got to thinking about what I would say if asked to give a high school graduation speech. I could dream up all kinds of highfalutin advice and wax on philosophically about how to live life, pretending I’m wiser than I am. But that would be disingenuous.


When I think about the things I wish I had done over almost 50 years, or those I’m glad I did, the more I conclude it was the simple things that made a difference in my life, not the pursuance of lofty goals or extraordinary wealth. While it’s true money can buy you some happiness, it can’t assure eternal life.

The following, then, is my humble, unsolicited advice to graduates:

♦ Be structured: Rise every morning with purpose, even if it’s not a work day. If you are open to adventure, it will come.

♦ Work: If you’re like me, you’ll have some tedious, boring jobs early in life that will ultimately lead to a great one that is so fulfilling you can’t imagine doing anything else. In this case, the oft-cited advice a lot of graduation speakers utter — “do what you love and happiness will follow” — is true.

♦ Save money: No matter how little you earn at early jobs, put some away, every week. And then when you have enough, get a good financial advisor and invest wisely. But don’t put it all in places where you can’t touch it for years. That benefits the advisor, not you.

♦ Get in the dirt: Grow a vegetable garden. Digging your fingers in the earth and growing your own food, no matter your financial or social status, keeps you humble and thoughtful and gives you satisfaction in knowing you can feed yourself.


♦ Exercise daily: Get outdoors and walk, swim, ride a bike, ski or whatever it is you enjoy most. You’ll be happier and healthier.

♦ Sleep a lot: Go to bed when you’re tired and get up when you’re not. Your body knows what you need. I knew a woman in her 70s who slept only four hours a night and was very active, always boasting about how much she got done while the rest of us were all sleeping. She died a couple years later.

♦ Own a cat (or a dog), or two: Or let them own you. They keep you grounded, generous, calm and entertained. Their upkeep is minimal compared to how bereft you would be without them.

♦ Splurge sometimes: What is all your hard work for if you don’t treat yourself? What will all of it have been worth if you die tomorrow?

♦ Spend time with old people: They will teach you everything about everything.

♦ Address fear: Having a little keeps you vigilant and practical, but too much and it runs your life. Run it, instead. A journalism textbook from my early college years said we must do what we are afraid to do and what we don’t want to do. Just do it.

Lastly, I share a piece of advice my late father passed on from a physician friend: When your finances fail, work. When your marriage fails, work. When you’re depressed and all seems lost, work. But in the process, always take time to be lazy.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at acalder@centralmaine.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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