Oh, The Places You’ll Go! An Expat Commencement Address


graduation-hats1Many of you are familiar with Dr. Suess’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Since its publication in 1990, it has become the go-to gift for wave after wave of matriculated seniors stepping forth into the great, wide world. Wise words–that rhyme– wrapped and tied with a bow. Meant for children of all ages, it is filled with whimsical advice on navigating this great adventure we call LIFE. Who needs cash or a new MacBook Air when you can have a book full of nonsense rhyme urging you to make your own way in the world, right? Well, most of us as it turns out.

Today is your day. 
You’re off to Great Places! 
You’re off and away!

For most of us, the caps and gowns that signified graduation have long been shelved. The last strains of Pomp and Circumstance have faded into memory. (That’s Land of Hope and Glory to you Brits). Decades have passed since most of us tossed mortar boards high into the air and said our goodbyes to those hallowed halls. But the idea of endings and beginnings, of closing out one chapter of our lives before we begin the next, of ups and downs, of resilience and fortitude—those ideas apply to us throughout our lives. For those of you ‘graduating’ into your next posting, those rhyming words seemed worth sharing.

You have brains in your head. 
You have feet in your shoes 
You can steer yourself 
any direction you choose.

You’re on your own. And you know what you know. 

And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.leavingrec1

Whether it was by choice or circumstance, job or chance, an itch to move on or a call back home, for many of you, it is time to say good-bye. Maybe the comforts of back-home are just around the corner or maybe you’ll be dipping your toes into yet another new culture, another new language, another new set of experiences. Near or far, home or away, there is excitement ahead, there are new challenges to tackle and new places to see.

Oh, the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done!

There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.

The problem of course is that when you go, by default you are also leaving; leaving something, some place, some one or ones behind. For every one of you taking your first step on the next part of your journey, there are two or three or even more of us who will stay behind, filling the gaps left in your absence. Each of you has brought something to our collective experience, something special or unique. Perhaps it is a way of looking at life, or the way you tell a joke. Perhaps it is your ability to cut to the chase or the way you have a kind word for everyone. Some of you have a smile that brightens any room; others are always there with a helping hand. There are those of you who volunteer: your time, your ear, your expertise. Some of you have taken on the responsibility of teaching our children. Some are larger than life, while others prefer to stay on the sidelines. Cheerleaders and jocks, leaders and peacemakers, teachers, moms, dads. Friends. Some have shared a talent or taught a skill or provided a service. Perhaps your magic lay in your ability to make a newcomer feel welcome, to share your experience or knowledge; to be welcoming, to be a friend. All of those special, one of a kind traits that each of you brought to this crazy, collective experience mixed and melded with everyone else’s to make something ordinary into something extra-ordinary.

Come August, when the frenzy of year-end has subsided, when the excitement of summer vacations and holidays are starting to fade, when those of us remaining return with fresh notebooks and squeaky soled new shoes, your absence will be noted. You will be missed for who you are as individuals, but also because you have been part of the experience, part of the whole. We have not all crossed paths with one another, but for every me there are two or three others who, come August, will be a little bit lost, a little bit lacking, a little bit lonely without you here. We will think of you and wonder how you are settling; if you are finding it easy or difficult, if you are adjusting, if you’ve gotten hung up on a prickle-y perch. We will remember back to our own beginnings, when we were concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other to get to the next day, when we were struggling in the supermarket or swallowing our shyness to make friends on the playground. Many of you will find it easy. Some won’t. But all of you will triumph in that resilient way that we have come to expect of our expat brethren.

On and on you will hike oh-places-youll-go
and I know you’ll hike far 
and face up to your problems 
whatever they are. 

You’ll get mixed up, of course, 
as you already know. 
You’ll get mixed up 
with many strange birds as you go. 
So be sure when you step. 
Step with care and great tact 
and remember that Life’s 
a Great Balancing Act. 
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. 
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

Before you know it, the school year will in full swing and you’ll be navigating those foreign streets like a pro. You’ll reconnect with old friends or you will make new ones. You will bring your unique something to a new table, a new setting, a new place you call home, whether it’s for forever or only for the next few years. Most importantly that something will be just as valued there as is was here.  How do I know? Dr. Suess told me so:

And will you succeed? 
Yes! You will, indeed! 
(98 and 3 / 4 percent guaranteed.)


As hard as it is to say good-bye, know that your friendship and contributions and place in our whole, our right now, will remain only yours. There will be new faces come August, faces and families who we will accept with open arms, who will add something new, something of their own to our upside down world. But they will never replace the YOUS that YOU are.

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray 
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea, 
you’re off to Great Places! 
Today is your day! 
Your mountain is waiting. 
So…get on your way! 


The above was a piece I wrote and read aloud to those in my expat community who are moving on. Sometimes the simple words of Dr. Suess say it better than the most eloquent of speeches. That of course didn’t stop me from writing one….

To LM, HB, and SH, you leave big shoes to fill. x

7 Comments Add yours

  1. go Mama O says:

    I read this book (or excerpts of it) for a wedding! It’s a good one!


    1. dhonour says:

      I love Dr. Suess. The fact that he is suitable for every occasion makes me love his work even more. My children, much to my eternal disappointment, have never been big fans of Dr. Suess, though I read it with gusto. I hope they have to read Green Eggs and Ham every night for years…


  2. Deirdre Gallagher says:

    Awesome! I’m going to print this and post it at my daughter’s high school graduation party this weekend if you don’t mind! 🙂


    1. dhonour says:

      Of course not! I’m pretty sure someone gave me a copy of this for my college graduation. I’m sure I thought it was cute at the time. The more older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom in them there rhyming words.


  3. Sally says:

    I should not have re read this on the S Tog! See you in the Autumn xx


  4. sophpearl says:

    I also got a copy of this for my graduation! Great post.


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