Graduation speeches are tricky. The balance between sentimental and silly can quickly turn into a goopy sticky smattering of clichés and awkward jokes if you’re not careful. So I wanted to share my message here, online—with no long intentional pauses or stares into the distance to represent the future to come. I’ll just begin with a few questions so just mentally raise your hand if you can relate. Have you ever said during the past four years, “I can’t wait to turn 21?” or “I can’t wait for summer?” or “I can’t wait for finals to be over?” I’m guilty as charged myself. I found out that many of us are postponing our happiness and wishing our lives away without even realizing it. I wanted to turn that around so I decided to write about a book about it, now called, The Sunny Side Up!. After interviewing hundreds of Bruins about what it is that makes them happy, I compiled a list of Sunny Suggestions, which are simple tools and tips for improving your life and I wanted to share a few of those with you today so that you can continue to find happiness in your life well after graduation.
So the first suggestion—make gratitude ever present in your life. I recently saw an interview with a graduate student named Aimee Copeland. She had both of her hands, left leg, and right foot amputed after getting a flesh eating bacteria from a zipline crash that nearly took her life. Yet what did Aimee have to say about it? “Regardless of what happens to you…there’s always so much joy out there, and you just got to find it,” UCLA has given us so much to be thankful for—now it’s up to us to continue to appreciate the journey ahead, even when challenges come our way, as they inevitably will. We can choose to stay positive and we’ll be happier for it.
Next, never stop setting goals. Graduating from UCLA is just the beginning. It’s time to dream big and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to start up your own company or follow through on an idea that inspires you, now is your chance. We live in a time where you don’t have to play it safe or go by the book—be creative and break out. Be different. You don’t have to wait for other people to tell you “yes,” The only person you need to tell that to is yourself. Always believe that great things lie ahead in your future and remember that you never have to settle. You are capable of more than you think you are.
Third, don’t lose sight of the people who have changed your life for the better. The friendships we’ve made here can last for a lifetime if you’re willing to make an effort to stay in touch. As we share this time together, don’t let these precious friends slip away from you. We need to continue care about each other and connect.
Next, never stop finding people in your life who inspire you to think harder, be kinder, and give more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to people who amaze you. But it’s just as important to be a mentor. When someone comes to you for help, whether it’s with your time or advice, offer it to them. So many people in our lives have been willing to help us achieve our dreams—it’s so important that we help others accomplish theirs.
Lastly, give back. Find a cause you’re passionate about and put your heart there. Whether you danced for 26 hours at Dance Marathon or walked the track at Relay for Life during your time here—keep the spirit of service alive. The Bruin community is all about helping others and if we want to lead happy lives, we’ve got to begin by sharing and serving others. As Coach Wooden said, “Happiness begins when selfishness ends.”
Remember that happiness happens when YOU make it happen. Always believe in yourself and believe the best in other people as well. There is so much good in the world and it’s up to us to be apart of that goodness and share it with others. To quote from one of my favorite movies The Help, “You are kind, you are smart, you are important.” So don’t forget it! Congratulations Class of 2013!
The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook