A few requests for this. So here it is!
Jeff Hopkins’ address to the graduating class of 2015. Speech given Saturday, June 13, 2015.
Graduation speeches made by principals the world over could likely be combined into an anthology that would eventually be heralded as a universal cure for insomnia. I will do my best not to meet the criteria for inclusion in that tome, and I actually think I know why these speeches begin to blur together into one, boring meta-narrative. They all say the same thing. See if this sounds familiar:
“With the excellent preparation they’ve experienced at our school, we anticipate great things from these graduates in the future.”
And then a pithy quite, often from Dr. Seuss or some other philosopher.
I have been guilty of making these speeches. And as much as they may be accurate and may even seem perfectly fitting to the context, they miss a few important points.
First, we often talk about the future as something that is waiting for us in a neat package, fully-formed and personified, looking at its watch, impatiently waiting for us to come walking down the path to meet it in all its mystery. It is as though the future has nothing to do with us, or that it has power over us and we need to figure out how to crack the code. Well guess what? The future is us and we are it. You will know as much about the future when it becomes the present as anyone around you, as long as you are paying attention. Graduates, I want you never to be made to feel as though someone else owns the world and that you are going to be merely a visitor to it. I do hope that in your time at PSII you have learned something about self-determination, the construction of new knowledge rather than just the discovery of existing knowledge, and the joy in embracing emerging opportunities. If not, don’t worry, there are four instructional days left.
Beyond talking about the future as something that is outside ourselves, grad speeches also tend to forget about the power you have simply through your consciousness. Your attention to certain things as opposed to other certain things has a great deal to do with what your life is like and what it will be like.
We can take this one step further. I apologize in advance to those of you have already heard me ramble on about quantum physics and its enigmatic nature, particularly as it relates to reality.
There is a principle in quantum physics known as superposition. An example of this concept, simply put, could be this: Imagine that a single, indivisible particle is hidden from view but has an equal probability of being in two places. As soon as we look in one of those places, that is where it is. No matter which place we look first, that is where the particle is. This suggests a few possibilities, but the foremost among them is that the object exists in both places until we look in one place; and then the other reality — the unobserved one — collapses into nothingness. We have known this for almost 100 years mathematically, and since 1997 we have demonstrated this to be true in a physical labs using increasingly larger objects – starting with a photon and the most recent being a helium atom.
So what does this have to do with graduation speeches? Well, if we are going to talk about potential and future possibilities, we rarely talk about the power of consciousness. It’s understandable considering how weird this idea is. Even Einstein dismissed it as “spooky” until the math brought him back to reluctantly believing in it.
If what we are conscious of dictates what will be real, in the quantum world of very, very small things, then perhaps our consciousness is not just reactive, but is rather a catalyst for the manifestation of reality. There are thousands of people studying this right now – the relationship between our consciousness and reality, through quantum physics.
I do not intend to talk about this extraordinary power we seem to have as conscious beings in a way that will add to that feeling of paralysis we all experience from time to time when faced with a choice that we know is a big one. You know – when you put off making the decision because you know that when you do make it, it will activate one reality and will undoubtedly seal off the other possible reality – the unlived one – forever. The fear of regret is something that often stops people from pursuing dreams, especially if those dreams do not conform to already-existing, observable realities around us. We might be tempted to follow a well-worn path, knowing with greater probability how that path will turn out because we can see it unfolding in the lives of others.
No, this is not about paralysis, but surrender. If everything we perceive creates one path and destroys another, then there is no such thing as a big or a small decision. They are all big. They are all small. So even choosing not to act is a choice that sets a certain future into motion. Who knows what may have happened if we had made one, small change? Nobody knows. So don’t sweat it. Just get on with it.
Being an adolescent means that you are slightly more self-conscious than you were when you were 8 years old or than you will be when you are 40. Is everyone watching me? What should I do with my hands right now? What fork should I use first at dinner tonight?
Don’t worry. You will come to realize that what most people value is that you did something. Something as opposed to nothing. And that you did a something that you are interested in and that fits with your values. Ironically, that paralysis I mentioned earlier, that fear of making a decision and acting on it, is ultimately the only thing that ends up creating the regret.
Now, having said all that, the other thing that is missing from grad speeches is this — and it will sound like the complete undoing of everything I have just said. You will have to think about it a bit to see how the two parts are compatible.
There is a great saying, though no one is sure who first said it. It has been attributed to Jesus, Buddha, Peter Ustinov, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, ForrestWhitaker, and Ronald Reagan.
The saying is “Don’t just do something; stand there!”
You are not an action you are a being. While your decisions will affect your reality, not all consciousness requires action, and while actions are important, action is not always urgent. This is the trick. You will spend your life learning when and even if you should act in any given situation. This is the exciting part of life. I encourage you to savour it.
In the meantime, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your life. High school graduation is one of our few remaining societal rites of passage. Enjoy it. Be conscious of it. Manifest a reality for yourself, starting right now.