The start of a Maine summer brings any number of reasons for joy — including one of my favorite traditions: graduation season. There’s just something special about honoring the amazing accomplishments of our students and seeing families, friends and communities come together to celebrate them as they prepare to embark on the next step of their personal adventure. Unfortunately, graduations are yet another rite of passage that have been drastically altered by the ongoing pandemic — one of a series of milestones that the Class of 2020 have been forced to adjust or abandon for the sake of public health. So, as their high school career comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to directly address the Class of 2020 and offer them whatever wisdom I can to help them continue to succeed.

First: Be willing to take some chances. Now to be clear, I don’t mean dumb chances — and heaven knows there’s enough ways to take dumb chances in this environment. No, I mean believe in yourself, in what you can do and that maybe you can reach a little further than you think. You can take chances, you can try and even if you fail, that’s okay. Did you ever stop and think about that there’s a multi-million dollar industry in this country putting erasers on pencils? There’s a reason for that: because everyone makes mistakes. Don’t let the fear of failing stop you from taking the risk to do something great; take the opportunities life gives you. You don’t want to look back and say those painful words: would’ve, should’ve or could’ve.

Second: Attitude is everything. I’ve hired a lot of people in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever looked at anybody’s grades or where they went to college or high school. Those aren’t my big questions. I want to know: Are they positive? Do they make eye contact? Do they have a plan? All of that is attitude — the way you handle not only the day-to-day activities, but also how you respond to a challenge that couldn’t be anticipated (like, say, coronavirus?). Put simply: “It’s your attitude, and not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.”

Third: Whatever you’re doing, be the best at it. I know that sounds simple, but it’s both for yourself and for the way others view you. On a personal level, if you can take the most mundane job and give it your all you’ll be building good habits that will stick with you throughout your career and help you succeed, no matter what you do. In terms of how others view you, if you leave behind a reputation of slacking off, missing days of work and being generally disinterested, that’s not going to be helpful when a future employer calls for a reference. Your reputation is easy to stain and hard to clean, so put your best foot forward, always.

Finally: Always value your friends and family, because when times are tough (like now) they’re all you are going to have. No matter what you accomplish or what you accumulate, nothing is more important than the people who matter most to you and who you will want by your side during the good and the bad. But you have to love them and look after them. And even when life gets in the way, make sure to put your loved ones first. Be there for them, like you want them to be there for you. The Beatles said it best: “The love you get is equal to the love you give.” (Man, I really hope you all know who the Beatles are … )

Class of 2020, I speak for all of Maine when I say that we are heartbroken that we can’t come together physically to honor what you’ve accomplished. But please know that this doesn’t make your achievements any less meaningful or the road ahead any less exciting. I know you are about to go out into the world and do incredible things — learning and creating and building new opportunities to help your community, your country, your world. Congratulations, each and every one of you, on a job well done. Maine is proud to call you our own and we can’t wait to see what you do next.

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