It’s graduation season. But in 2020 there will be no commencement ceremonies, no caps, no gowns, no cords and no commencement addresses. The world might be a little better off for the lack of the latter, as I am not sure anyone ever remembers what was said during their commencement ceremonies.

When my two children went off to college, I wrote each of them letters and tucked the letters into the desk drawers of their dorm rooms just before leaving and saying my final goodbyes. I have combined and tweaked each of those letters to serve as this year’s unofficial 2020 commencement address to all Mississippi high school seniors.

Dear graduates, there are two, seemingly unconventional, routes to success in your upcoming professional and personal life – passion and fun. The decision regarding your professional life should be the easiest decision you’ll ever make. Your career should be about one thing – passion.

It took the first 20 years of my life to find my passion. But once I did, my career path was set. The minute I started working in restaurants I fell in love with the industry, instantly. I knew that was what I was “supposed” to do.

A few years ago, my son and I were riding in the car. He said, “Dad, what should I do when I grow up?” I thought for a minute and then said, “Son, whatever it is, don’t follow the money, follow your passion.”

Someone once said, “Do what you love to do for a career and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That is passion. It’s true. I do my hobby and I get paid for it. That is what I want for you.

Success follows passion, every time.

The second piece of advice is about fun. Go out and have fun. Seriously, it’s as simple as that. But it’s got to be the right kind of fun, and it’s got to come from the right kind of places.

After I graduated high school, I looked for fun in a lot of the wrong places, and I searched for fun for a long time. It was around the time that my children were born that the 40-year-old me figured out what life is all about – faith, family, friends, food and fun. Those things, in that order, are what lead to a full, fruitful, joy-filled and productive life.

Graduates, befriend the underdog. Laugh a lot. Make others laugh a lot. Hug your parents long and hard. Hug them so long that they’re the ones who let go first.

Take care of your teeth. Walk a lot. Drink milk. Don’t hate. Stay in touch with your friends. Make new friends. Share a meal with your friends. Travel.

Don’t ever compare your insides to other people’s outsides, and always stay humble. When your head begins to swell, your mind stops growing.

At the first sign of trouble, go to God first. The will of God will never take you where the grace of God won’t protect you (though your second call should be to a parent). They say, “Nothing will happen today that you and God can’t handle.” They are right.

You will face challenges and setbacks over the next several years. Remember that despair is only a visiting moment, hope is always around the corner. I have learned that the difference between intention and decision is that intention is followed by more intentions. Decision is followed by action. Always take action.

Never confuse pleasure with happiness. Trust me, there’s a difference. Ladies, always know that “no” is a complete sentence.

Don’t worry too much. I’ve lived through the worst stuff that never happened way more than I’ve lived through the stuff that actually did happen. Again, trust God. If you pray, don’t worry. If you worry, don’t pray.

Eat French fries. Be nice. Be bold. Behave. Spend time with your grandparents (when it’s safe to do so). Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor’s neighbor. Love your neighbor’s grandparents. Make mistakes. Then don’t sweat the mistakes you make. Go out and make more mistakes, you’ll get it right eventually. Forgive others for their mistakes. That whole “Do unto others” thing is truly good advice. Floss every day. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t be so hard on others. Just make it a general rule not to be hard.

Volunteer where you feel led. Don’t just “give back.” To “give back” you have to have received something first. Just “give,” then give some more. Give of your time, give of your resources and give your love. When you think you’ve given enough, then give even more.

Don’t forget the laughing thing. Don’t forget the hugging thing either. Don’t forget any of it. Find your passion. Make that your career. Then go be passionate. Have fun. Help others. These days aren’t some rehearsal for some upcoming future event. This is your moment. This is your life. You will make mistakes. Don’t dwell on them. Learn from them and move on.

Know to your core that the best things in life aren’t things, and until you give up the idea of happiness being somewhere else, you’ll never find it.

Give of yourself and give of your time. The only thing we take from this world when we leave is what we gave away. Now is a great time to start giving. Your life will truly begin when you stop expecting the world to give you something and you start trying to figure out what you can give to the world.

Share your happiness. Count your blessings. And when all else fails, follow directions.

Know that life is short, but it’s the longest thing we’ll ever do. So have fun, be kind, and call your parents.

ROBERT ST. JOHN is a restaurateur, chef and author. Find his recipe for Deviled Eggs x3 at robertstjohn.com.

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