On Saturday morning, May 21, Kaylee Elizabeth Maxwell, my first born, will graduate from the University of Georgia School of Law and begin the “what’s next” chapter in her life. It is a surreal moment for me. As her father over these last 26 years, I have seen clearly all that she has accomplished as a young woman and as an exceptional human being. I am so very proud and these words are for her.
Kaylee, your efforts and grades reflect your unwavering dedication to achievement, and your wanting the best out of life. You have internalized and demonstrated critical lessons in discipline, planning, focus and tenacity. You are well on your way to greatness.
As I watch you prepare for this latest milestone in your life my mind is flooded with memories. It wasn’t so long ago that we were giving each other butterfly kisses and you were letting me walk you to your classroom every single school day morning. I made it a priority when you were born not to miss anything in your life and each and every moment – by your side or watching from a distance – has been a very special part of an absolutely incredible and amazing journey.
As you grew, our time together remained as fun and playful as always, yet it shifted slightly — transitioning into working with you on your homework, discussing your thoughts on a book you were reading, planning your next project … and then watching you set your sights on becoming a lawyer and working to save the world.
At next Saturday’s Law School commencement ceremony, I will again be in the audience while you will be stepping — literally and figuratively — into the next chapter of your life. And this time, what that also means is that I’m going to be an audience member in a slightly permanent fashion; watching from a distance as you perform, but always supporting you with my attendance, my attention and my eternal love and admiration.
You have taken the reins in various aspects of your life, and I can’t help but smile. As you go on this journey, I would like to pass on a few key things that might assist you. These are lessons that I have both learned and am still learning.
Don’t be fooled by my (or anyone else’s) age. Learning never stops, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out. And as you discover new truths, please be sure to share them with me, as my fervent hope has always been that the student surpasses the teacher.
Don’t be afraid of failure. I have learned the most when I have failed royally, assessed what I did wrong, made adjustments and then did it again the right way. Fear will paralyze and control you. Those who are afraid to fail are also afraid to succeed. To accomplish anything, you must risk losing in order to capture what you want. It is our struggles that not only define us, but also cause our growth. Remember: You will win some, and you will lose some, but either way you always learn something and you are loved for just being you.
Be clear on your wants and needs. Sure, you’re going to need a job and a paycheck. But don’t lose sight of what you truly want from life, trading your wants for what you need. As you get older, you will regret so few decisions that you made, and instead will experience profound remorse about the decisions that you didn’t make and the opportunities you didn’t pursue. Don’t live a life of “What If?” Instead, take chances.
Be kind. You will never know what another person’s experience has been. As such, please remember to continue to be empathetic and compassionate.
Do much. Learn, grow, experience, change, shift, adjust — and then change again. Do as much as you can and experience all you are able. Life is not measured by how fast you arrive at the end because none of us are going to make it out of this alive. Life is about the accumulation of what you know, what you did, what you learned and what you thought about through it all.
Give. Be giving with your time, your knowledge, your money, your effort, your love and yourself. You are a gift to the world and you should definitely share.
Always dream. There are times to be a realist, but not at the expense of passion. Dream big and chase what you want. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that your dreams are too big.
Don’t grow up. At various points in your life, you will need to be an adult and make hard decisions. However, being an adult doesn’t mean that you are forced to grow up. Make sure you still act like a kid whenever possible; life is immensely more fun that way.
Be brave. As a human being, you will face challenging times; it happens to all of us. What defines you is how you respond to that adversity. It’s normal to be scared, just don’t stop moving forward.
Be You. Don’t allow anyone to define who you are. You are an incredible, vibrant, resourceful, amazing, talented, tenacious, outstanding and courageous young woman. As you get exposed to new things and lessons, your perspective will shift, but you do the shifting. Don’t hand over the definition of who you are to anyone else. Continue to choose who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in.
In closing, you need to know this: I am exceptionally proud of you. My pride is not a selfish pride, but is instead a pride of observation. As a father, I have tried to show and guide you, but ultimately you will decide your own path, and I am certain based on what you have done so far you will choose the right path.
Congratulations, Kaylee. Your new life is just beginning and I am so excited to be a part of it and standing right there beside you as you go out and change the world!
I love you,