A Letter to My Son on Graduation Day

Graduation season is upon us.  As someone who’s constantly learning at work, an adjunct professor and a perpetual student of life, I have a soft spot in my heart for all graduates. However, this year I have an extra reason to feel both nostalgic and proud.

Long-time followers of Front and Centered have often read my tales about my son, Mike Chiaradonna, or as I like to call him, “Mikey C.”  Most of the time, when he’s featured in a post, it’s because he’s teaching me something new, not the other way around.

Well, I couldn’t be more proud to share that Mikey C. is a member of the graduating high school class of 2017. He will embark on the next chapter of his life as a freshman at Tufts University in the fall.mike_graduation_2

When we started this blog more than two and a half years ago, our intent was to learn about leadership through everyday life situations.  As I prepared a letter to share with my son at his graduation dinner, I realized just how much life experiences shape the kind of person and leader we all have the potential to become.

This week I want to share that letter with all of you. It’s personal and full of pride, but with a lot of great lessons for young people who are beginning new journeys, and some lessons for old people (like me), who need to remember the journey never ends.

Congratulations Mikey C!  Enjoy the adventure.  Your mom and I could not be more proud.

‘Mikey C!  #44!’ How many times did I yell that to you on the football field, at a baseball tournament, as a coach and as a parent?  All the practices, car rides and plane trips—what a good time we had growing up together.  You, as a child growing into a man, and me, as a man growing into a father. I have learned a lot from you, and for that I thank you. I love you unconditionally and I’m so very proud of you. I am proud to call you my son and my friend! 

As this chapter of our journey comes to a close I wanted to share some thoughts.  

I’ve told you many times that life is the biggest teacher. You cannot control life; it just happens. But you can control your own decisions and actions, the way you react to life, and how you prepare for it. Learning happens everywhere in life, you just need to be open to it. It happens: 

  • At the family dinner table
  • On the playground
  • At a baseball game
  • In a class room
  • On the job

Life, like a game, is not about winning.  It’s about how you prepare and how you play – hopefully with pride and respect.

Let me start with a quote by Paul Bryant:

“Show class, have pride and display character. Winning takes care of itself.” 

Pride, Hard Work and No Regrets

No one works harder and with more pride than you. You put the work in when no one is looking – not for the glory but because of your passion. Passion is a great character trait. It will take you places in life.

Winning feels great and losing sucks, but both are valuable experiences. Both can teach us lessons. Even when life hands you a loss, continue to take pride in how you prepare and how you compete. Give it your all. You may still be disappointed with a loss — but you will not have regrets about your performance. 

  • Never play “not to fail.” Always play to win.
  • Never make it about you, make it about the team.
  • Always seize the moment, but never let the moment be bigger than you.
  • After the competition always show respect for the opponent.
  • Cherish the memories and the relationships you build in competition, they can never be taken away.

As a parent, it’s tempting to try to protect you from disappointment, but I can’t. I can, however, help protect you from regrets. My advice at home, in school, on the field, and for the rest of your life is, and always will be, give it everything you got every time — no regrets! 

During high school you took that advice and lived by it. It showed by the way you approached your family and friends, your school work, the baseball team and your social calendar. You’ve always been fully vested in life and I love that about you!  Always remember “hard work beats talent that does not work hard.”

In life, continue to sprint on and off the field!

Risk vs Reward

Sometimes in life we get lost in all the noise and all the pressure. Life gets too big. We become afraid and we stop dreaming and taking chances. But life is about experiences and trying new things. It’s not about being perfect or avoiding mistakes. If you’re not making mistakes, then you are not taking enough chances. Life is a risk / reward equation and you need to find the right balance, or you will not grow as a man.

Well Mikey C., I am proud of how you have managed that risk / reward equation. I admire how you are willing to take risks and deal with the ramifications. You’ve taken some chances and most of them were smart. I wish you would have passed on some of them (my hair would be a little less gray if you had). But I get it! We went through it together and we both learned from them. All of those risks helped you grow and learn. They helped you find your true self and develop your character.

As you continue your journey in college and beyond, it is important to stretch and push the status quo.  No matter what, continue to chase your dreams and take chances.

Do not be afraid to fail. I promise, it only stings for a minute. 

Lead by Being Absurdly You

You have always let your actions speak louder than words. You understand that leadership is a verb based on action, not a noun granted through titles. You have led your own way, as you say, by being “absurdly you.” 

I am most proud that you are your own man. You found your voice, you are not afraid to use it and you back it up with action. You are not a talker.  You are a doer and I LOVE that about you! 

You do not do things because they are popular; you do them because you want to. You are comfortable with who you are. You are confident enough to chase your dreams. You are strong enough to bounce back from failure. You’re humble enough to enjoy the moment with your family, your classmates or your team instead of focusing on your individual contributions.   

You are a true leader. You lead because you are interested in a better outcome, not because you want to be called the leader. I admire that in any person and I am proud of that in my son! You are a very interesting young man who sees the world through a different lens. You truly are “absurdly you” and that is such a great thing!  Do not ever apologize for being you.

Moving Forward

As one door shuts another opens. Graduating from LaSalle College High School is not the end, it is just the beginning of the next chapter. The laughter, the tears, and the friendships are yours to keep. You earned them. The experiences are part of who you are and who you will become. Build on these experiences and engage in new ones. Never stop growing and know I will always be there cheering you on in life. Good luck with the next chapter, #44. Just remember “Show class, have pride and display character. Winning takes care of itself.” 

And always know, I will be there watching and yelling “Mikey C.” every step of the way! 

With great pride and much love,

Dad