Dear Boomer: To the Class of 2024

Fifty years ago, I rode my Kawasaki from Portola Valley onto campus, usually squeaking into class just on time. While much has changed since then, one thing has remained constant: our humanness. We still search for meaning and need connection. We still have dreams and we still screw up. In the last 50 years, as I’ve changed careers and locations, I’ve never stopped appreciating and observing my fellow companions. So, “Ask Boomer” anything. Surprise me. Life is short. Let’s add on to it.

— Helen Hudson ’74

Forgive me if I’m not too impressed with that diploma in your hand – mine from 50 years ago still sits in a box. It’s just a piece of paper that says you’ve read some, taken a bunch of tests, BS’d a few teachers and maybe learned a few things. Oh sure, you’ve had accomplishments. If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have been accepted into Stanford. Up until now, though, you’ve been carefully crafting your life. You’ve taken all those APs, joined whatever would look impressive on your CVs and worked hard to take the risk out of everything — you were focused on success.

It’s now time to dump all that carefulness and plunge forward into the chaos of the unknown. Hopefully, you’ll have many failures along the way! Start by making mistakes. Make them at home and in the workplace. Be bold in your mistake-making. Don’t just slip on a banana peel. Ride it across the road. Talk about your mistakes with others. It will make them feel better about themselves. The more failures you have, the more likely you are to succeed and become human. The best part? These mistakes will be lovely stories to tell someday.

Successes are just lines on a resume. It’s your mistakes that both define and refine you. They point you in the next direction and the next after that. They keep you humble and give you confidence each time that you get back on your feet. How will you ever know where you belong if you don’t learn where you don’t fit? Many folks before you had lots of failures. Walt Disney’s editor fired him because he “lacked imagination.” Oprah Winfrey lost her first TV job because she got “too emotionally invested” in her stories. What will they say about you?

Remember, you don’t have to be just one thing. 50 years ago, I graduated with a degree in communications. I was going to be the next, great investigative reporter. After doing my first story, I realized I wasn’t cut out to dig up dirt on others. Since then, I’ve had at least 12 different jobs, from waitress to therapist. The hardest but most rewarding for me has been motherhood. But you can have a great life without kids, partners or even dogs. (Well, maybe not dogs.)

Your degree is only one drop in the well of your life. It will open a few doors that you may or may not want to walk through but it won’t save you from drowning or help you make decisions. It won’t protect you from jackasses, mend your broken heart or pay the light bill. It also won’t bail you out of jail. (I know.) If you keep filling your well, you will stay afloat. Trying and failing at things builds resilience. Resilience breeds humor. Once you can laugh at yourself, you are free to be your unapologetic self. Leave your mistakes in your rear-view mirror, though. Don’t drag them around with you like tin cans tied to your bumper.

Your diploma won’t be worth diddly on your deathbed, but your stories will. There is no guidebook for your next 50 years. I’ve written mine. Now it’s time to start writing yours. You’ve got this.

Oh, while you’re filling your well, a few tips:

1. Don’t take “No” for an answer.

2. Be careful what you say “Yes” to.

3. Erase “would’ve,” “should’ve” and “could’ve” from your vocabulary.

4. Keep your stress low and your spirits high.

5. Make good friends by being one.

6. Take an interest in strangers. They become friends.

7. If something seems too good to be true, jump on it.

(Kidding. Multiply it then reduce it to its lowest terms.)

8. Look up at the sky often. Someday you won’t be able to see it.

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