Words of Wisdom Upon Your Graduation Day

So let his habits be formed, and all his economies heroic; no spoiled child, no drone, no Epicure, but a Stoic, formidable, athletic, knowing how to be poor, loving labor, and not flogging his youthful wit with tobacco and wine; treasuring his youth. I wish the youth to be an armed and complete man; no helpless angel to be slapped in the face, but a man dipped in the Styx of human experience, and made invulnerable so, — self-helping. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

My dearest son, I wish you the warmest congratulations on your graduation from high school. Soon you will be heading out into the world to forge your own path in life. But before you go, I wish to arm you with some words of wisdom. I do not expect you to understand all the things I will write in this letter today. I certainly didn’t understand the things once said to me in my youth. But as I did, in time you will find the points presented here to be immutable truth.

We need the iron qualities that go with true manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shrinking the rough work that must always be done. — Theodore Roosevelt

While there are some lessons that a man has to learn himself, there are far too many failures in life to try to make them all yourself. For this reason, we must learn from the experience of others. I recommend you take the counsel of those that have achieved the positions in life you desire. I also cannot overstate the importance of reading often and widely in subjects, for as W.A. Evans once wrote, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

As you are heading off to college, do not confuse this path to credentialing as your education. While your college degree will open the career doors that you seek, it absolutely will not, or at least should not, end your education. As Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” I hope you continually challenge yourself to learn new things and take interest in the greater world. It takes some time to learn how to direct your own learning and design your own “life curriculum” but I have faith in you. Follow your interest and explore all the fields they may run through.

I will warn you not to direct your life towards happiness. It is not that happiness is bad or wrong. But happiness will come and go. Finding purpose in life is your best hope in finding and enjoying happiness. You are likely to find that this purpose will in some way be to help others. Find your purpose and happiness will be a frequent visitor. Chase solely after happiness and you will likely find a life of misery.

Learn and pay attention to philosophy. Many may think this is a useless field filled with the thoughts of dead men. However, philosophy is a means of communicating our relationship with the rest of the world. Philosophies can be used to shape the way we think and behave. If you are careless about the messages you are receiving and do not examine the philosophies of those messengers, it is easy to be lead astray even to the point of atrocities. To begin your journey into philosophy, I recommend the Stoics. The works of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus will provide you a practical philosophy that has stood the test of millennia. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau captures the spirit of a uniquely American variation of Stoicism that every citizen should read at some point in their lives. The sooner you begin your serious study into philosophy, the sooner you can take advantage of all the gifts it can offer.

There is no habit you will value so much as that of walking far without fatigue. — Thomas Jefferson

[W]alk at least ten miles each day, at a rate of four miles per hour;-about three to four times each year shoulder your knapsack, and, with your barometer, &c. ascend to the summits of our principal mountains, and determine the altitudes, walking from thirty to eighty miles per day, according as you can bear the fatigue- do all these, and I will insure you firm and vigorous constitutions. — Captain Alden Partridge

In ending, remember that my door will always be open to you. There will always be a safe haven if needed with food and warmth. I will be look forward to the distant day when we can sit beside a campfire and talk as men about our success and failures, our dreams and regrets. Until then my son, have courage and face the world on your feet.



Franklin C. Annis is a researcher in the fields of military history & education theory. On Twitter @EvolvingWar and www.YouTube.com/TheEvolvingWarfighter

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Franklin Annis

Franklin C. Annis is a researcher in the fields of military history & education theory. On Twitter @EvolvingWar and www.YouTube.com/TheEvolvingWarfighter