Journalist Frank Bruni addressed Johns Hopkins University's graduates at Wednesday's commencement ceremony, telling an arena full of young people about to embark on new chapters of their lives that richness and fulfillment in life come not so much from what you do, but who you do it with.
Bruni opened with a personal story about a long-ago family beach vacation that included his eldest niece, who recently completed her junior year at Johns Hopkins.
As the two of them looked out across the vast Atlantic Ocean, Bruni said, the young girl—who evidently had been learning some basic Spanish—remarked, "so many aguas in there."
"I share that story not to embarrass her, and not to be sappy, although as you'll see I'm a total sap," he said. "I share it because it underscores the part of life that's too easily forgotten in a world swirling with ambition, and in a milieu as accomplished as yours—the part that will have more to do with your happiness than any job you snag or any ladder you climb. That part is the quality of the interactions with the people around you, especially the ones closest to you; the amount of time you give them; the fierceness of your commitment to them. Your families will be the most consequential forces in your existences.
"And when I say families, I don't mean only the ones you inherited. I'm not speaking narrowly—mother, father, sister, brother. I'm including the families you create. Your friends, your neighbors, your mentors, your mentees. Nothing will propel, cushion, and exalt your journey through this crazy world like the band of loved ones you gather around you."
Bruni—whose 22-year career at The New York Times has included stints as White House correspondent, restaurant critic, and now columnist—noted that whenever he is asked about his dream meal, his thoughts first go not to the food on the table, but to the people around it.
"I've noticed that the highest achievers aren't just driven, they're doing jobs so aligned with their passions that they have energy and inspiration to burn," he said. "Keep that in mind as you set your courses. But the dividing line between the achievers who are merely distinguished and those who are actually content is the richness of their lives outside of any office, and away from any stage. That's the realm in which they found the laughter and the love that bring true fulfillment."
Bruni added: "Both before you arrived at Johns Hopkins and during your time here, you cultivated relationships that are the very foundation of who you are. You'll cultivate more after you leave. Don't take them for granted. Never let them fall into neglect. The years ahead will be magical and messy, full of the very rewards that you set your sights on, and of setbacks you never imagined. So many aguas in there. But there's only one smart way to sail across the ocean of your future, and that's in the clutch of people you love."