A Coming-of-Middle-Age Commencement Address

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Joanna Monahan

Joanna Monahan, Age (almost) 50, lives in North Carolina with her husband, their two children, and one hangry cat. Her debut novel, Something Better, was published June 2023 by Blue Ink Press, and is a coming-of-(middle-)age tale about love, family, and the dangers of attending your high school reunion. When she isn’t writing, Joanna enjoys theater, baseball, and bookmarking recipes she will never make. A child of the 80s, she regrets that she no longer receives pizza coupons in exchange for reading books. You can find Joanna at www.joannamonahan.com where she blogs about writing, books, and all things GenX.

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A Coming-of-Middle-Age Commencement Address: The Intersection of What If and What Next

I published my first novel a mere six days after my eldest child graduated high school.

The metaphor is not lost on me.

In fact, the juxtaposition of these milestones helped me process my feelings about both in a way that was healthier and more productive than simply eating a gallon of Breyers Strawberry ice cream (my original post-graduation plan). Instead, I’ve been able to see with fresh eyes the way her coming-of-age at 18 and mine at almost 50 overlap and, more importantly, how they diverge. How both stages are ripe with promise and the opportunity to define -or redefine- us.

Thus, in the spirit of celebration, I offer the following commencement address to all my Gen Xers out there:

As I stand here looking over your faces (do I know you?), I think back (as far as I can remember-so, this morning) and reflect upon all we have achieved (We got up! We got dressed. We probably got others up and dressed too).

We’ve wondered who can it be knocking at my door (rap rap rap)? We know never to feed a Mogwai after midnight. We know who shot JR. We’ve been members of the Breakfast Club, we’ve been Pretty in Pink, we’re still Some Kind of Wonderful. We took the Pepsi Challenge. We wish that we had Jessie’s Girl. We know how important it is to phone home.

We’ve had good times and bad. We remember most some of it, and we rejoice in the fact that there are no pictures.

We have fought the good fight to be here today. We have juggled careers – or not. We have juggled families – or not. We have been criticized and often ostracized for either choice. We have faced adversities as varied as we are. Sometimes we let it get to us. Sometimes we held our shit together and cried in the bathroom later. Sometimes we got angry and stood up for ourselves. We were criticized and ostracized for those choices too. We survived. An under-supervised and mostly self-governed generation, you could even say we thrived.

Today is the day when we come together with no agenda but to celebrate ourselves and who we are. If coming-of-age is about defining ourselves, then coming-of-middle-age is about reclaiming our truest forms.

We have been amazing in the past. Let us be extraordinary in the future.

At 18, the possibilities were overwhelming- sometimes paralyzing- in their infinity. And though we may have different opportunities available to us at 50, we command the wisdom and resources to make them happen. We once believed that the world owed us. Now we know that we owe our best to the world.

My wish for each of us, on this cusp of next phase in life, is thus:

Have the audacity to please yourself. Your happiness shines upon those you love most and those who want you to succeed.

Set trends instead of following them. Create your own damn club to join.

Remember that the words “success” and “failure,” “betrayal” and “love” may be printed in black and white, but they exist on a greyscale. Make your own conclusion about what constitutes each.

Celebrate others – happiness is best when shared.

Some people have been “ready” for ages. Some of us are arriving fashionably late. It doesn’t matter. Never apologize for the journey you took to get where you are. You are amazing. You are totally tubular.

As we look forward to the next chapter in our lives, we can look back at our accomplishments and be proud. The friends we made, the memories we created, will stay with us as we take our next steps into the future. We met challenges head on; we celebrated successes and came together in times of hardship.

Today we stand at the intersection of What If and What Next, never forgetting What Matters.

We are ready to step into middle age.

One Response

  1. Fun to read. Interesting to hear more about your life experiences. And great hopes for the future. Despite different life experiences we are more alike than different. And so very blessed.

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