Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Grads should savor life's journey

I heard them before I saw them. It was a rumbling, a force to be reckoned with as the Suburban rolled defiantly down Foothill Boulevard, eight teenagers inside it moving to the beat of “Some Nights,” by Fun. A sign painted on the vehicle in large red letters read, “Seniors Rock 2013.” They were proclaiming to the world that they had inherited Earth and everything on it.

As they bopped on by, we stared at each other. The expressions on their faces read, “You wish you were us!”

I wonder how they knew.

The brashness of youth is intoxicating; its beguiling nature is an aphrodisiac that compels one to remember younger days. Its attractiveness defines the rite of passage. High school graduation begins the process of adulthood. Falling into the future is life's most consummate adventure.

I feel an attachment to the class of 2013. I've seen you act, play sports, cheer, dance; I've heard you sing. I've even been to Europe with you. For many of you, I was the guy who wore the red vest, supervising recess at La Cañada Elementary.

And now you are seniors. The universe has just whispered its secrets in your ear. Surely you should be lauded for the mountains you have climbed; so what gifts can I possibly give you, other than thoughts? Words are all I have. Believe me when I say there's something extraordinary about words. They hold you captive, zigzagging themselves around you like spider silk, penetrating your pores, entering your veins and creating alchemy. Sometimes they even change your life.

I was a teacher for 38 years and often wrote my students letters summarizing the salient points of my lectures. I called them “The Stay Gold Letters.” There are almost 2,000 of them, more than a million words. It was overwhelming to find the perfect message among them. There were countless perspectives, philosophies, quotes and stories, all of which have significant meaning for an emerging life.

Maybe I should heed the Sufi philosophers, “There are many paths; pick one.” That alone is pretty good advice, so I did.

I saw you at the fireworks in Memorial Park last week. I watched your joyous antics. I tried to intellectualize your magic; capture it, put it in a bottle, and then drink the potion and wait for a do-over. It didn't work.

Once I was you. However, I never stopped to see my reflection in the looking glass. I was always running up the next mountain, never stopping to inhale the moment.

Let me share some insight from the poem “Ithaca,” by Constantine Cavafy. It's the story of Odysseus' 10-year voyage back to Ithaca to be with his wife, Penelope. It's the Odyssey. We learn that the magic of life is not found in the destination but in the journey. Merely accomplishing goals is not experiencing life. Mountains lie before you. You must ascend them; it's what you were born to do. As you travel, always keep the summit of the mountain in sight, but don't hurry to get there. To arrive is not your ultimate goal. The mountain gives you the beautiful voyage called life. When you arrive at the top, you will not find your reward. Success is not a place at which one arrives, but rather the spirit you possess throughout your journey. Your reward is the experience and recollection of the moments you've had along the way. That's the secret. This moment is all we're promised. Don't let it slip away.

At the end of Odysseus' voyage, he finally reaches Ithaca; he is rich with all the experiences he has gained along the way. It was Ithaca that gave him the splendid voyage. As he sits in the harbor after 10 years at sea he finally gets it: Life is not the destination; it's the journey.

Congratulations on your graduation!

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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