Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Pelham Examiner

Isaac Lief’s graduation speech: ‘Live your life like the main character of your favorite movie’

Isaac Lief was one of three seniors selected to give a speech at the Pelham Memorial High School graduation. (Cristina Stefanizzi)

“Cinema is a mirror by which we often see ourselves,” said Oscar-winning filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He’s absolutely right. Consider your favorite movies. For me, they’re inspirational ones like “Good Will Hunting” that depict hustling towards a success that once seemed unimaginable. Now think about why you enjoy the movies you love. Presumably, there’s something in the plot or characterization that you find appealing, something that you would like for your own life. Like the character Tom Wingfield from “The Glass Menagerie” who goes to the movie theater night after night to immerse himself in stories of action and adventure, movies serve as an escape from reality, a reminder that the world out there is so much bigger and more fascinating than we think. But the fundamental problem of this manner of thinking is that this escape is only temporary because after a brief two-hour getaway, we must always return to our ordinary lives. Thus, there are two solutions: Either watch more movies, or, the trickier option, live your life like the main character of your favorite movie. Easy enough, right? In reality, it’s simpler than you might think. Do what the characters in your favorite films do: Just hustle… but not too fast.

First, the hustle. As with movies and life, we must realize that both are short. By establishing a sense of urgency, hustling becomes the easy part. The first step is to define your goal and then relentlessly pursue it. Every main character has one, whether it be defeating an antagonist, winning over a girl, or the most elusive: Achieving one’s full potential. The Farrelly Brothers, the famous American filmmakers who directed “Dumb and Dumber,” aptly captured this sentiment with a philosophy anything but dumb: “Life is like going the wrong way on a moving walkway. Stand still and you go backward. Walk and you stay put. To get ahead, you have to hustle.” In order to embody this notion over my time in high school, I kept an inspirational quote on my lock screen for two years saying, “Hustle, verb: the only controllable pillar of success.” So that was my goal: I hustled by trying to spend every second productively, even using my hour-and-half commutes to Manhattan every weekday for fencing practice to do everything from homework to SAT sections to memorizing the introductions for my debate competitions that weekend. Over the past four years, each and every person in this class has hustled towards a goal in their own right: practicing a sport, memorizing lines for the play, polishing a research presentation, rehearsing an instrument, working a job, studying for a test or just making it through a week. No one has achieved anything great without hustling and the Class of 2024’s endless list of accolades speaks volumes to this notion.

However, despite the importance of the hustle, it’s equally important not to get lost in the work—to nonetheless enjoy and appreciate the process. Fundamentally, you can’t base your happiness off the result, and that’s because our expectations of happiness or disappointment are always more extreme than the actual outcome. We’ve all felt like if we just got this one thing—won a game, performed well at a competition, aced a test, got into this one school—that we’d be happy. But in reality, the short-term satisfaction derived from these moments of achieving a goal went away like that (snap). On the bright side, the expected disappointment of failure is also far worse than the reality. Case in point: Losing the Olympics. Too soon? Anyway, so what’s the solution? Never try hard at anything because regardless of the result it is, ultimately, insignificant. Absolutely not. Instead, you have to enjoy the process, the day-to-day struggle of working towards something about which you are passionate, regardless of the future result.

Ironically, in one of my favorite movies, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Ferris says just the opposite of the hustle mentality: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So is it still possible to both hustle and enjoy the moment? Well in practice, hustling has nothing to do with speed and everything to do with drive. Whether you achieved your goals in the last four years or will achieve them in years to come blatantly doesn’t matter. What’s important is that each of you is hustling towards a goal and engaging in meaningful work. And that’s because hustling is about the input—the vision, the work, the perseverance—not the output, the end result. Looking back at our years in high school, we spent so much time waiting for it to be over that we overlooked the small things along the way: the nervous excitement of the first day of school, politely laughing at a teacher’s not-so-funny joke or simply walking to classes with friends. While high school may be over, this is just the beginning. At the end of the day, you want to look back on your life and have minimal regrets. Whether that’s taking advantage of opportunities, spending time with loved ones or just trying something new, choose the path of least regret.

Now that our high school movie has come to an end, it’s time to think about what you want the next chapter of your saga to look like. As with all great things in life, there’s a dichotomy. To achieve happiness you need to strike a balance between hustling towards a goal and enjoying the process. But at the end of the day, the solution is simple: Hustle… but not too fast.

Isaac Lief was one of three students chosen to speak at Saturday’s Pelham Memorial High School graduation ceremony.

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