EVERYONE needs a little lift-off in their lives. We are all blessed to be standing here this Graduation Day. But we are imperfect human beings, so sometimes that knowledge is not enough. Sometimes it takes something more to compensate for the fact that too often many of us - myself included - are not aware of how fortunate we truly are. I am not going to be so bold to claim to have the secret to sustained happiness throughout life. But I do know one thing. It is essential that each of us seek out those little moments, those key elements in life that can give us unadulterated joy, if only for a brief instance. When you find them, then you experience the happiness that - in theory - most of us should feel all the time.
Most of us arrived here in late August 1997. Many of us held a fixed idea of what we were getting ourselves into. The "U.Va. experience" is well heralded, particularly around the East Coast. Though we are no longer the legendary party school we once were, the University still knows how to get on down when it feels the need. The raucous, sometimes-reckless weekend atmosphere in Charlottesville initiated most of us quickly. From the moment our parents dropped us at our dorms that hot summer afternoon, we began to learn. Cliches aside, it is safe to say we learned as much or more outside the classroom as we did inside. That is not a slight to our faculty, rather a humble observation that the University experience - at our University as much as any other - involves far more than a degree.
From naive first years, we evolved and matured into the more self-assured adults standing at the precipice of graduation. The road between these two points was long and winding for some of us, for others it was brief. However long it took, we stand here at graduation as the product of what this University has given us, and of what it has done for us. The University will remain forever marked in our minds and our souls as four very special years.
The American college experience is fairly unique in the world in that it demands that students leave home at the age of 18 to pursue their studies - and more importantly - to begin living an independent life. For most of the world's university students, this is not the case. If they do receive such an education, it is usually close to home, and they live with mom and dad the whole time. But because we faced down the dual challenges of academics and living away from home, we are that much stronger for the experience. We are that much better prepared to tackle whatever challenges await us after May 20. Our University experience - all the lows and the even more numerous highs - has left an indelible mark upon all of us. For better or worse - mostly better - our four years here have shaped our outlook on the world. Every decision we make will be influenced in at least some small part by our time here in Charlottesville. This is a powerful idea, but a very real one.
Most of us know the obvious secret to eternal happiness - find what you love doing and do it for the rest of your life. A less obvious secret I have been fortunate enough to learn is to be always mindful of the need to get airborne. It is not something you can get through the use of a drug. Rather, it is the idea that we should always look for those rare but extremely sweet moments that make us so happy we almost feel dizzy. You know the feeling. It is the feeling you get listening to your favorite song, right before it hits the chorus. It is the reason South American soccer commentators can shout "Gooooooal!" for five minutes non-stop. It is that most fleeting of moments in life where you almost feel like the sky rips open and you are online with heaven. Bono calls it "elevation." Prince tells us to "punch a higher floor." Today is one of those blessed moments. Today we are celebrating the culmination of four years of work and joy. We are celebrating a lifetime of potential.
The real world we are about to enter into offers up a host of possibilities. It can make us incredibly happy, or inescapably miserable. A lot of times, just knowing how lucky we are to be alive is not enough to overcome the daily toil we will all face. Whenever that happens, do yourself a favor. Dial up one of those moments that makes you get airborne. Punch a higher floor. And I will meet you there.
(Timothy DuBoff was a 1997-2001 opinion columnist.)