Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, New York City June 2nd, 2024
Dear Barron, You don’t know me and will most-likely never meet me, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your graduation from high school (glad you were able to return to your old school in Manhattan). Of course, I am aware that I’m very early in conveying this message, but it’s timely enough that I feel I should ignore the constraints of chronology.
Well, here you are! You’ve made it to the end, which is really the beginning, which is why it’s called “commencement ceremony” rather than a “conclusion ceremony.” You’ve come a long way since your days as “little Donald,” when your dedicated mother ensured that you’d be well-cared-for, well-educated and well-regarded by your peers. She did that by herself, out of love and concern for your well-being, while many lesser famous mothers ceded those responsibilities to “the help.” She taught you her language, made sure you knew the loving embrace of your grandparents, her parents, all the while giving you the room to be and become your own person. Love is not a given, but in order to be received it does need to be given, and any reasonable observation of your mother is that she has done that selflessly and generously.
So now you’re a young man! You’re clever, handsome, well-mannered and well-groomed (I’ve heard how you like to wear your suits, and “clean and neat” is your preferred aesthetic). As the captain of your school’s golf team, your leadership skills have proven formidable, and it’s clear that those early years strutting the links with your father paid off. Your four straight years on the honor roll are testament your diligence. Again, your parents provided you great opportunity, but your success is more than a result of what your parents have given you, it has much more to do with who you are. You've also demonstrated your courage, as in the time you took the dip in the lake with your buddies and famously saved your friend Mohammed from certain drowning, which was nothing less than heroic, and rightfully lauded.
I remember that just seven years ago you were preparing to move to DC, to enter a new school, and you were facing a lot of new challenges for a 6th grader to be … new home, new friends, new school, that’s a lot all at once. I also remember that there was a lot going on with your father’s new job as president, and that he was facing some pretty major challenges as well … Russia, healthcare, new budget, Paris Accord (looks like thanks to the United States Climate Alliance we’ll be meeting our emission goals!). I’m not going to go on and on about how I disagreed with many of the things he did during his time in office, as that wouldn’t do anyone any good. I do sincerely hope that you were able to keep a positive view of yourself over the past few years, and that your classmates didn’t give you a hard time when your father was going through his ordeal. It’s important to realize that just as we’re not completely defined by the opportunities afforded to us by our parents, we’re also not confined by their shortcomings. Your path is not your brothers' nor sisters' path, let alone your father's path. It is yours, and you are responsible for it. As you encounter obstacles to your growth and personal progress, you'll learn to identify, adapt and overcome, just as our nation and the world has done over these past years.
I wish for you happiness … and success, though I’m positive that the latter will find you if you don’t find it. The sort of happiness I was referring to is hopefully one you’ve come to know well, like that warm feeling that you get when you see your mother smiling, and you are enveloped by her embrace, and with luck you’ve experienced that same warmth with others. Because that’s the sort of happiness that’s both in the world that’s known and close to us, its in nature, and in the unknown world we will encounter together. We only have to recognize it.
Finally, if you and I and others who read this are around in seven years to look back on this past-future message, maybe we'll agree on more on than we do now, what was real, what was not, what was good for the planet and what was not ... what was right and what was wrong. To quote the great American Poet Laureate, Billy Collins: “And the corollary to carpe diem is gratitude, gratitude for simply being alive, for having a day to seize. The taking of breath, the beating of the heart. Gratitude for the natural world around us — the massing clouds, the white ibis by the shore. In Barcelona a poetry competition is held every year. There are three prizes: The third prize is a rose made of silver, the second prize is a golden rose, and the first prize: a rose. A real rose. The flower itself. Think of that the next time the term “priorities” comes up.”
Very Sincerely, An old teacher