For the past month, I’ve been consumed with graduations!

First, on May 12, I was honored to accept the 2022 Most Distinguished Alumni Award from my high school, Niles West in Skokie, Ill., and speak to soon-to-be graduates during a moving ceremony.

Then, one week later on May 18, my own daughter graduated from high school. I was overcome with pride on that exciting day, as we celebrated her and her classmates and all they have accomplished in spite of spending half of their high school years enduring a pandemic. It was such a momentous occasion for our family that I felt it required me to go all out and throw a huge graduation party for our family and friends. So that’s exactly what I did last weekend!

It has been an exhausting, emotional and memorable few weeks. Now, as I come off of my graduation-induced high, I’m thinking back to some of the reflections I shared with the Niles West graduates when I had the honor of addressing them. I know that many of you have recent graduates in your life, too. Or maybe you are a graduate. So, I’d like to share some thoughts from my speech, about how our past experiences can inspire our future path – as long as we keep looking for the lessons. Perhaps this will be food for thought for someone you know who is from the Class of 2022 – or, really, anyone who is thinking about closing one chapter and starting a new one.

It’s not always clear which experiences in your life will make a long-term impact and change your path. When I started high school, I was a self-conscious frizzy-haired girl from a family of immigrants without many resources. No one had gone to college, and I didn’t know if that would even be possible for me. But I was a hard worker and driven to succeed, AND I was fortunate to have the right teachers at the right time. They opened my eyes to so many new possibilities and helped me discover my passion for storytelling and, eventually, my interest in pursuing a career in broadcast journalism, which later evolved into a desire to pursue public relations.

But this process took time and hard lessons learned along the way. Mapping out our future – or figuring out what we’re meant to do or what next step we should take – can be overwhelming and scary. It’s usually not a quick and easy thing. And that’s true whether you’re young or old.

So, to help move that process along, my advice is this: No matter what your journey has been or will be, and whether you think you know what your future holds or have no idea, continue to look back on your past experiences and reflect on how they might have shaped you, even if you didn’t realize their significance when they were happening. What did you learn about yourself when you were in school or in your last job, about what motivates and moves you, or holds you back? 

Follow these breadcrumbs. Because they could eventually lead you to a future passion or purpose. They could be the clues that help you discover whatever your dream might be and catapult you to fulfillment or success beyond your imagination right now.

It’s often hard to make sense of our experiences when we’re in the moment. Sometimes our path becomes more clear as we get older and gain more perspective. Even now, I reflect on those breadcrumbs from my high school years and the role they played in my life – making me stronger in good times and bad, whether while working to put myself through college, as a mom, as a cancer survivor, as a struggling new entrepreneur or as my company has taken off.

So don’t stop reflecting on your formative years, or any past experience that shaped you. Everyone will have ups and downs in their journey. As we go through our triumphs and challenges, the key is to be able to draw inspiration and wisdom from our past – even if we didn’t know the value of those moments when we were living them.

I’m so proud of my daughter, those Niles West graduates, and ALL members of the Class of 2022! They not only made it through but achieved great things – in the face of a worldwide pandemic, no less. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment. I wish them all the best as they start this next chapter!