One aspect of this year’s class stood out to me as several of us were crafting the tributes that we read at Commencement. I noticed how often we were using the term “authentic” or some variation of it to describe this year’s seniors. Unique, one-of-a-kind, a true individual, comfortable with who they are . . . the phrases kept rolling out. I concurred with these descriptions. One of our goals here at Colorado Academy is to help all students become authentic individuals; we want to students to forge their own paths and to emerge from here as independent as possible.
All of which begs some weighty questions, Class of 2018. How exactly does one achieve authenticity? How does someone get to that wonderful place of being comfortable in one’s own skin?
American culture has often celebrated those historical figures we would describe as more authentic. We recognize the boldness of their actions and their desire to be true to themselves. In some cases, they were acknowledged in their lifetimes and became famous in their own time. In other cases, it seems, their individuality was not totally appreciated until after they were gone. Today, many companies put a premium on authentic leadership and aspiring CEOs can find a multitude of books on the topic.
The field of philosophy is replete with this concept as well. Zen Buddhists, for instance, strive for authenticity. They believe that being present—in the now—is a means by which an authentic self may be achieved. Similarly, the Greek philosopher Socrates encouraged his pupils to “Know thyself” and reasoned that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Only then can one attain a higher state of being in which greater self-knowledge prevails.
So this notion of authenticity has been around a very long time. Like many positive qualities, it is something to which many people aspire. And the bottom line is it’s much easier said than done, because another thing we understand about authenticity is that one shouldn’t try too hard to achieve it. We all know people who somehow strain to be real only to fail miserably; their effort is so transparent as to be grating. One should never have to force authenticity; instead, it takes a Zen-like approach and a quiet confidence.
What have I learned from watching this most authentic Class of 2018? At your best, you know how to be in the present. You take things in stride and have begun the important process of sorting out what matters to you. You understand that doing the right thing isn’t always the most popular thing. You speak up about what you believe in and then follow up with actions, not just words. You are not afraid to be vulnerable at times and to talk through what you find challenging. You practice mindfulness and gratitude.
A Chinese Monk from the T’ang dynasty was once asked “What is the seat of enlightenment?” to which he replied: “Freedom from artificiality.” Very true. Live well and keep being authentic, 2018. You will long be remembered for being exactly who you are.