Intersections – The Flash Forward: Advice at graduation

Posted by May 25, 2016
Nicki Salcedo

Nicki Salcedo

By Nicki Salcedo, contributor 

Don’t read this now. Save this for 20 years in the future.

I have a time machine. Time takes me forward no matter what I do. I consider myself lucky. Everyone doesn’t get to see the future. And the past can be a rocky journey. I can travel to the past when I wish. It is often a murky recollection, like the sensation of falling into water. The past has no gravity and memories surface with emotion. I can find both happiness and grief in all my years. I’m thankful for that.

I graduated from college 20 years ago. I love saying 20 years ago, because it seems like forever. I can go back 20 years just as easily as I can flip the pages of a book. If I close my eyes, it is my graduation day again.

I was told to take risks and persevere.

I was told to defy expectations.

I was told to find happiness.


Then I flash forward 20 years, and I don’t know if I’ve done any of those things. When my niece went to college last year, I wanted her to be ready for the world. But I forgot that if she’s like me, she hates advice. I don’t follow directions well. Graduation speeches were wasted on me then. No speech, no job, no amount of education can prepare you for the unexpected things that will happen to you throughout your life.

The only certainties are that you will make mistakes and that you will experience triumphs. But those aren’t the things that matter. Twenty years from now, on a Wednesday of any old month, you will look back and be surprised. Instead of advice, take a look into the future. Flash forward with me.

One day 20 years ago, I pierced my tongue at the Piercing Experience in Little 5 Points.  I was mad at my job and couldn’t quit. I kind of hoped I would be fired. I wasn’t.

On another day, I woke up in a fraternity house at UGA in Athens, Georgia after a night of too much drinking. I was on one twin bed, still wearing my mini skirt and nylons. Back in the olden days, ladies wore nylons to bars. On the other twin bed was my best friend. Between the two twin beds was a 50 gallon tank with a large python in it. Twenty years later, this is the reason why I don’t drink much in public.


I learned to like cauliflower. I mean really like it, not just endure it. Same goes for cantaloupe. No one told me that I might love the things I used to hate.

I am still afraid of heights and meats that are too bloody.

I’ve never had a bucket list.

I know that as soon as I say “never” I end up doing the thing I said never about.

I surround myself with people who don’t think my happiness is gloating and my sadness is failure.

I didn’t cry much 20 years ago, but now I’m thankful for crying and how much it helps me when I’m sad.

You should ask adults what they want to be when they grow up. I met an older woman a few weeks ago, and I asked her that question. She laughed for a long time. When she stopped laughing, I told her I was serious.

She didn’t pause five seconds before saying, “Painter. Why do you want to know?”

“Because I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” I said.

She laughed again, because she knew it was true. No one told me that I would want to be lots things all throughout my life. I know that now.

I want to learn to paint. I want large oversized canvases. I want to learn Portuguese. That’s a new one. I only thought of it this week.

I used to think that happiness was fun, but now happiness is strange things like a quiet moment or a clean house or rest. How I find happiness will change again and again.

The best advice is to trust yourself. I’m not sure how long that will take. Maybe a week? Maybe 20 years? Maybe you won’t recognize the little voice inside of you that can give better advice than you’ll ever hear in a speech. But the voice inside you might tell you uncomfortable truths.

Don’t take that job. Don’t marry that person.

Will you still listen?

Who you love and what you do for your career should not define you. I met a mortgage broker this week. After talking to her for a long time, she casually mentioned that she can quote all the dialogue from “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back.” Y’all, if you meet me, lead with this type of information. The days of “Where’d you go to school? What do you do?” are over for me.

You are graduating not into life, but into time. If I can learn a few sentences in Portuguese this year, I may hold out hope that the next 20 years will be as fun and interesting as the last. Congratulations.

“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.


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