One night last fall my partner Adam and I were talking about why adults ask children, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' We thought it might be better to ask, 'What do you want to DO when you grow up?'
I'm a single dad of two, on graduating high school in June, and 21 year old graduating college next year. I've been spending a lot of time talking with them about their passions and their futures, so it got me thinking.
A Jamaica Plain-born book called Dear Graduate.
We were taken aback by the idea that any age could apply the ideas to themselves, but we saw that there was something about it that resonated, something that reminded us all of our own journeys and maybe how to pass on some wisdom.
We wanted to give any graduate a moment to think deliberately about the road ahead and what they want to accomplish. The book asks questions of the reader—about what they hope to use their time to do and what values they’ll develop, evolving to bigger questions about how they act in the world and who they want to become and what they will achieve.
It also connected with the sense that a lot of people look down on other people because of the type of work they do or the education they’ve received. As a society, we’ve become more than a little obsessed with where you go to school, if you go to college and less about helping each person find the right jobs or careers that suit them and will give them satisfaction, pride, and dignity.
It was clear during the early parts of the pandemic that it took a lot of very different skills and abilities to keep the world spinning. We could see how some were getting to stay home on their computers while whole industries were working even harder to keep us all going, from healthcare to education to supermarkets to delivery people to restaurants and on and on.
Our hope is that with the book it gives anyone at this turning point in life they spend time thinking about what gives them satisfaction, and not what they feel they have to pursue.
In some ways, Dear Graduate is about being faced with questions that make you think about your intentions differently, or at all. It’s a feeling of, 'Wow, I was never asked these things as a child. If I had been asked then, who would I be now?'
I want my kids to be able to provide for themselves and feel that independence, but I also want them to feel pride in whatever work they do. I hope this book helps others steer toward those goals as well.
And congratulations to all the graduates out there, of every age!
Charles McEnerney is a longtime Jamaica Plain resident, and co-author of Dear Graduate with Adam Larson. McEnerney has worked for HBO, MovieMaker Magazine, Seattle International Film Festival, WGBH/PBS, ArtsBoston, and the JP Music Festival.