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Sam Cook column: Advice for all grads

I don’t remember the finer points of the commencement address at my high school graduation. In fact, I remember nothing of it. Nor do I recall who delivered it. That probably says less about the quality of the address than it does about my own willingness to take it in.

I was a gangly kid with a girlfriend, a summer job at the golf course and — thanks to government loans and grants — the promise of a college education.

Despite the best efforts of my high school teachers, I remained naïve and disengaged from much of what was happening on the planet. I could have probably named the capitals of most states, but my world view stretched scarcely beyond the fields of Art Strahm’s soybeans, where my brother and I would walk the rows on sultry summer days, whacking cocklebur weeds with machetes for $1.50 an hour.

So, I’ll offer up a few things I wish I’d have been told the night I graduated.

-- Do what you say you’ll do. It seems so simple, but this is what it comes down to in the long run. If you say you’ll show up, show up. It matters. It matters at work. It matters to your friends. It matters to your spouse and your kids. The corollary to this, which is harder to learn, is: Don’t say you’ll do something if there’s little likelihood you can live up to it.

-- Give yourself permission to dream big. Mostly, I think, we sell ourselves short. We’re capable of much more than we realize. We tend to limit ourselves. We may believe that conditions, or our station in life, or those around us are holding us back. But usually, that’s not the case. It’s us.

-- Cultivate mentors. Nobody says you have to figure out life all by yourself. Others have been down the bean field before you. They have wisdom to share if you let them in. Reach out. Make connections. Ask for counsel. Some of these wise individuals could be your best friends. Some are teachers. Some are coaches. Some, believe it or not, are your parents.

-- You can do hard things. I never heard it put quite this way until a woman I know, who’s in the business of helping people change their lives, said it. She would help people arrive at a proposed course of action, and they’d say, “But that’s hard.” And she’d say, “Yes. And you can do hard things.” I’m lucky to be married to her.

-- Read. Along with mentors, reading is the best way to broaden your horizons, entertain different views, realize that you’re not alone and travel the world.

-- As soon as possible, travel. Get out. Pack light. Go. Costa Rica. Mississippi. Nepal. Wherever. Backpack. Bike. Take a train. This is what you learn: The rest of the world is not just like you. There are other ways to live.

There. That’s my once and future commencement address. The rest of life is just a matter of putting your head down and whacking cockleburs.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Follow him on Twitter at twit or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”