Graduation Speech 2015: Eliana Zuckerman


Welcome, class of 2015. Congratulations on getting to this day. You made it! By now most of you have probably heard of my hamster, Hazel. She is adorable, frightening, and the light of my life. I will use her as an extended metaphor throughout this entire speech, so buckle up.  Here we go:

Life lessons I’ve learned from my Hamster
Section 1: things that apply to hamsters and not to humans.

The commitments you make are permanent.

This is true for buying hamsters- when you buy one, that’s it. You have a hamster for the rest of that hamsters’ life.  If they’re nice and cute, you’ll want to keep it, and if they bite you, like mine does me, nobody else will want it either.  This is not the case for us, however.  This is the time in our lives to be selfish about our relationships and activities.  If something isn’t working out, cast it aside and move on to something else.  If you’ve played the piano for ten years and decide you hate it, pick up something new. If you go on a date and something doesn’t click, don’t commit to another.  Right now, let’s focus on what’s exactly right for us.

Section two: Things that apply to both hamsters and people

The cutest thing is not always the nicest thing.

I picked Hazel because she was adorable, even though I realized at the time that she wasn’t the friendliest. This was not a great idea. Remember to value the people in your life on their character.  Now I’m not saying that any of us would pick friends because they are cute, but keep in mind to think critically about people: do my new friends gossip, do they support me, do like me for me or for their own benefit?  I’ve heard people say many times that your first friends in college will not be the ones that stick with you throughout. Instead of being intimidated by this, let’s embrace it.  Find exactly the people you want to be around all the time, even if they’re hard to find.  Hold them close, and let everyone else go about their own lives.

Life is surprising. 

I got Hazel because, the day before she was about to leave for college, my girlfriend learned that if adult hamsters live together, they will fight to the death.  She had just bought two hamsters- one of which was Hazel.  I made a frantic phone call to my mom and a dash out to Petco right before it closed, and then I had a hamster.  Life will turn us upside-down. It will have us ecstatic one minute over having a pet, then stressed over what food to buy, then crying on the floor of our bedrooms over hamster cage instruction manuals the next.  This is okay, because honestly, like it or not, this is how we grow.  We take on a new pet, we get promoted and have to move, we suddenly have to change paths. Let’s embrace the change and the excitement.

There’s nothing to gain from hiding any part of you.

My hamster eats, sleeps, and poops in the same place. And I still love her.  None of us are perfectly polite or neat or pleasant all the time.  That’s fine: let’s not pretend to be. Then, others don’t feel the need to hold themselves to a standard of perfection either.  Be the people who others look up to.  Be bold, mess up, don’t cover it up. 

Section 3: Things that apply only to Humans.

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Hamsters will still get fed. You will not. We’re leaving high school, we’re going to college, and it feels like we’re on top of the world.  The most important thing to keep us steady right now, in my opinion, is gratitude.  Hamsters are solitary animals. We are not. It’s true, we all worked really hard to get here, but let’s never forget how many people were rooting for us, pushing us, teaching us along the way.  Let’s make an effort to show these people how much they’ve meant to us-hopefully, someday, they will understand the impact they’ve had.

Finally, It’s okay to be “still figuring it out.”  Honestly, I’m not sure if we’ll ever reach a time in our lives when we’re not “still figuring it out.”  Life would be better if we approached every situation with the knowledge that nobody else knows what they’re doing either.  Class of 2015, My Hamster is still biting me, I don’t know why, and that’s okay.