Remarks by A.J. Wasserstein P'17, '18
Photography by Robert Falcetti and Highpoint Pictures
Raveeno Douglas '18 received the Harry W. Walker '40 "Non ut Sibi" Award, which is presented to the senior whose service and work outside of Taft best exemplifies the School's motto.
Photography by Robert Falcetti
Remarks by A.J. Wasserstein P'17, '18
Download this feature (PDF)
A.J. Wasserstein, Speaker
Parent of Jake '18 and Michael '17
Current and former Taft parent A.J. Wasserstein was invited to give the school's Commencement address. Here, we share excerpts from his talk about what he wished he had known when he was about to enter college.
When I was your age I thought I had it all figured out. After all, I was graduating from high school—clearly, I had mastered everything there was to possibly know about life. Turns out I was wrong about many things. What I thought was important was not. And what I thought was unimportant was actually quite important. The single most vital concept I wish I understood was that life is all about optimizing around long-term happiness. This might seem obvious, but so many young adults rush ahead into life without making happiness their primary goal. Sometimes the excitement and noise of our lives on a day-to-day basis pulls us away from long-term happiness. Aristotle defined the very purpose of life as developing your virtues in order to find happiness.
Before we continue, let me define happiness, from my perspective.
Happiness is not fleeting or a temporary rush—like devouring a hot fudge sundae or bungee jumping. Happiness is enduring fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy, moving from novice to proficiency. Happiness is being in harmony in your personal relationships, your college activities, your spirituality, and your health. Happiness is knowing and living your values—having a strong and intentional sense of who you are. Happiness feels like being in a state of flow. But happiness is hard, just like mastering a foreign language. It takes time, energy, and diligent work to get there—but it is certainly worth it and best of all, you can absolutely do this.
Your next stop on your destination to happiness is college!
College is an amazing opportunity and experience. It is a magical four-year period in your life that should be embraced, relished, and most of all, not wasted. Although it might seem like being admitted to college is an ending point—particularly after all the hard work you did during the daunting college admission process—it's a new beginning.
Whether you are off to study physics, philosophy, or finance, one of the main goals of college is to learn how to learn—to become analytical, a critical thinker, and a great communicator, skills you have already begun to develop at Taft. Exactly what the faculty here has worked hard at and is the essence of the Portrait of a Graduate, a mosaic I admire so much. But the very key in college is to fully discover who you are and what you want in your life.
Go all in while at college. Don't coast through and do the least you can get away with. This is a narrow window in time where you can test and try different activities and experiences with few consequences. Try the hard English class; push yourself to give a new club sport a whirl; join the school newspaper. While in college, lean in—take full advantage.
When you are in college, resist the temptation to stay ensconced in your own bubble. In a conversation I had with Mr. Mac last year about transitioning into college, he asserted that different is not only good, but should be sought out with the desire to understand. College is a perfect place to do this. Interacting with people who are not like you is incredibly important in life to broaden and expand yourself.
When you get to college you might experience something for the first time—failure. Failure is going to be part of your life, so you might as well get used to it and embrace it. To think you'll coast through college and life without experiencing failure is optimistic and naive. All people pursuing happiness trip regularly and encounter failure. And when you do suffer that first failure in college, try not to get down. Instead, get gritty. Persistence, resilience, and stick-to-itiveness are all your allies and will help you prevail and find happiness.
When I was your age, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. An innocuous enough question, but one that might be exactly the wrong question to ask a young person. The right question to pepper young people with is, "Who are you going to be when you grow up?" "Who are you?" gets to the essence of how you see yourself—your core and character, what type of person you aspire to be. With no simple or reflexive answer, it's much deeper and more challenging to answer than "What do you want to be?" To find happiness, and to answer what do you want to be, you must first understand who you are going to be—and college is a fantastic venue to discover and answer the "who are you going to be" question.
As part of defining who you are, I hope you consider and embrace Taft's school motto: Non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret. You are incredibly fortunate to have received a Taft education. Think about how you will use this gift and how you will serve.
There is an ancient Chinese saying that goes, "If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap (just not right now please). If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody." If you embrace Aristotle's view that our purpose is to find happiness—part of that answer is through service.
When you finish college, it would be wonderful if you have a fully formed sense of your values, goals, and identity—who you are going to be. Nobody can tell you specifically what these are—there are no right or wrong answers, you simply need to find what works for you. Think about this in great detail while in college.
To all of the graduates, I wish you good luck and success in your next chapter. I wish you fun and enjoyment. I wish you new experiences and new friends. But more than anything else, I wish you happiness.
A.J. Wasserstein has led a distinguished career as an entrepreneur, received numerous awards for his leadership, served on multiple not-for-profit boards, taught at the Yale School of Management, and authored a book on raising children.