Congratulations 2020 graduates! What a long strange year it has been for you. Banal platitudes pale in comparison to national events. You’re entering a world on the cusp of change, in the middle of a pandemic. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” must weigh heavy on your shoulders. You are not alone, and the world welcomes you with open arms. We need more adults in the room, and your voices are welcome.
A typical advice column seems trite at this point. What am I going to say? Wash your hands, eat a vegetable every day, moderation in everything, and make time to read a newspaper. Not an internet meme. Read a real, honest to goodness newspaper written by journalists who quote experts and do extensive research. When you stand for something, do it with knowledge, historical research, and analytical study.
Instead of advice, I am going to share a list of books that changed my way of thinking.
• “Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain. I first read this book when I was 8 years old, and I keep returning to it over and over again. My take-aways each time are different. The earliest lesson for me was regional languages — we all may speak English, but words have weight and meaning that may differ from place to place. Words matter when speaking of race and human relationships. At the end of the day, kindness and friendship can get us through rough waters and dark times.
• “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee. This book helped me see the value in looking for the root of truth beyond a community’s standard of living.
• “The Name of the Rose,” by Umberto Eco. When I thought I had nothing to write or say, this book showed me that “every story tells a story that has already been told.” Even though something has already been written about, look for a way to tell the same story from a different perspective.
• “A Walk in the Woods,” by Bill Bryson. You can sit around and dream about something, or wait until you are ready. But another option is to just do it and learn a few lessons along the way.
• “Woman Alone, Travel Tales from Around the Globe,” by assorted authors. An inspirational and entertaining collection of essays. These impressed upon me the importance of learning who I was, alone, and appreciating the experience before sharing my life with an intimate partner.
• “Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage,” by Robin Gerber. At the end of my first internship with Idaho Legal Aid, my internship supervisor gave me this book. The quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” helped me find my own confidence in both my professional and personal life.
• “Neverwhere,” by Neil Gaiman. A guilty pleasure that I return to every year. The main theme: decisions have weight and actions have consequences.
Next up on my to-read list: “Why Fish Don’t Exist,” by Lulu Miller. It’s about chaos and science, and sounds relative to current events.