One year ago, right around this time, I graduated from Elon University in North Carolina.
This past weekend, I got to watch my girlfriend walk across that same stage with diploma in hand. Walking around Elon’s campus last week, I had time to reflect and wanted to help new college graduates see what I’ve seen over the past 12 months:
A lot can change in a year.
Less than a week after last year’s graduation, I started a three-day road trip from North Carolina to Colorado to oversee the brand direction for Young Life on social media.
I drove out to my new home, Colorado Springs, with a friend and the fact that I had just graduated and moved across the country in a matter of days didn’t quite hit me until my first time driving around this unfamiliar place by myself.
In that moment, I realized my extreme lack of friends in this new city, as well as the extreme range of possibilities that lied before me. I had a clean slate to make this new chapter what I wanted it to be. Although scary, it was also freeing.
But that didn’t mean my perspective completely changed. I still missed my friends and family back at home. I was in Colorado, but my mind was back in North Carolina. However, I got my best advice during this time from one of my friends back home: “Embrace the good that’s there.”
When I made my decision to embrace the good in Colorado Springs, I became curious about how to make my new city feel like home. I tried out new churches, attended community events, and started asking more people to get coffee than I ever had before.
The more relationships I built, the more at home I felt. I also started getting introduced to worlds I had never experienced before. Poetry. Entrepreneurship. Social good.
I recognized three things early on that changed the trajectory of my first year out of college:
- Words are powerful.
- Small acts of love can make a big difference in people’s lives.
- You have to show up every day.
These realizations resulted in the creation of Car Window Poetry. I got disillusioned with most of my life only being lived in the hours between 9 AM to 5 PM, and, one night after work, I felt a desire to create something that would make the lives of people in Colorado Springs better.
Because I had met a number of people who were involved with poetry in Colorado Springs, I knew there was a lot of talent there. Then, I became curious: What would it look like to give these poets a platform from which they could share their words and impact the people around them?
After coming up with an idea for cards on which poets could share their words, the next question became: Where do you place these cards? I knew the poems had to be shared in an intentional place. In a burst of inspiration, I decided it might be powerful to share these poems on cars.
We’re surrounded by cars, and oftentimes these vehicles are destinations for negative messages — parking tickets and annoying event flyers. What if I changed the narrative and shared something positive instead?
I settled on Car Window Poetry as the name, and that night I made this dream a reality. I designed the logo, as well as the poetry cards, ordered the cards, began setting up the social media accounts, and purchased the web domain. At that point, I knew I was in it for the long run.
Knowing the reality of resistance from failed side projects in college, I set out to do one thing each day that would go towards growing Car Window Poetry. It could be something big or small; I just wanted to be committed to consistently telling the Car Window Poetry story.
And it’s crazy — the more I told the Car Window Poetry story online, the more people wanted to get involved. I heard from friends who wanted to bring Car Window Poetry to their cities, people who reached out and just wanted to help, and I even got asked to share the story with NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt!
Through consistently telling the story, Car Window Poetry went from being a small, local art project to becoming a global poetry movement with numerous features on news outlets around the U.S. and people sharing encouraging poems in over 40 countries worldwide.
I’ve gotten to speak at schools in Colorado, North Carolina and California, Skype with classes in places like Canada and Arkansas, and I even got to return to Elon University and share the Car Window Poetry story with students at my alma mater.
Last year, when I was walking across the graduation stage at Elon, I had no idea any of this was possible. The path was foggy. All I had was a direction, but sometimes that’s all you need.
Dear graduate — wherever you’re headed or whatever you’re doing in the months to come, dare to embrace where you are. Move in the direction of that which you love, and focus on the stories over the success. Fall in love with the adventure, and lose your fascination with instant gratification.
I believe you’re a wizard with magic to share. Don’t hide it. Share it, and keep sharing it. People will take notice. I promise.