Find Your Grounding and Beach Up | Opinion

Congratulations, Class of 2022! You have survived, endured and thrived through some of the most difficult years in recent memory. As you emerge from these difficult times and begin a new chapter in your life, it is important to sit down at this time and celebrate all that you have overcome and accomplished to get to this point. This is your moment to cherish.

It is also a moment of reflection. The next phase of your life will probably be very different from the previous one. I offer three stories and lessons from my own life that I hope will serve you wherever your path takes you.

1. Root yourself in gratitude and service.

Born in the heart of Pakistani mango country, I was destined for a very different life until my mother won the lottery. The visa lottery, that is, a crazy chance that landed my family and me in the United States. Growing up here was difficult. We struggled with housing insecurity and survived solely on food stamps. During this time, I became deeply committed to ensuring that my family escaped poverty and that others did not have to endure the same experience as us.

This self-imposed pressure was a heavy burden to bear, but by grounding myself, I found resilience in difficult times. I was, and still am, so grateful to be here. I know I am lucky to be thankful for the opportunities I have today and I am grateful to have been welcomed with open arms into the Cambridge community.

As graduates of a prestigious university, you have so many opportunities, and therefore so many difficult decisions to make. How do you balance career growth, financial success, and meaningful work? How do you respect prestige and measure success in your life?

The angst of these decisions can be crippling. Don’t paralyze yourself. Ground yourself in gratitude and service.

2. You will often fail. Fail up.

I’ve lost every election I’ve run in – from college student body representative to my first run for city council. I always gave my best, pushed the limits and finally finished second. That was until I won my first election. Now all everyone remembers is ‘the youngest Cambridge alderman ever elected’.

We only see the best moments of those we admire, but behind every successful individual lies a series of failures, from bad auditions and rejected papers to bankrupt startups and lost elections. The mistake is to think that failure is the end of the road or the wrong direction. Difficulties are part of the journey. You will fail before you succeed. Kiss him. Learn about it. Use it as a springboard.

3. Happiness is not a checklist.

A good friend of mine recently committed suicide. She was so young and had met all the criteria for success: she had professional accolades, financial stability, supportive parents and a loving partner. She was the last person I worried about. But unfortunately, happiness cannot be collected passively; it must be actively cultivated.

As smart, ambitious graduates with big dreams, you’ve put a lot of time and effort into honing your craft and creating the conditions for your career success. Have you prepared for fulfillment and inner peace in the same way?

You have completed your time at Harvard, and for many of you this will be your last time in a structured academic setting. Friends will not come automatically and there will always be important work to do. Don’t get lost in achieving your own internal goals.

The destination is important; find a way to also enjoy your trip.

The railings are off and life is now a marathon. Those are the three lessons I leave you with: find your basics, fail up, and enjoy the journey.

Burhan Azeem is a member of Cambridge City Council.

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