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A Commencement Speech for Military Spouses

(Photo: Department of Defense)
(Photo: Department of Defense)

The graduation invitations have begun to arrive. It's a rite of passage, as predictable as the annual crop of child stars gone bad.

Sitting through half a dozen readings of Dr. Seuss' Oh the Places You'll Go! made me realize that there aren't any military spouse commencement speeches.

Every year, thousands of people marry someone in the military, adorably unaware of what they're getting into -- and a whole bunch of those weddings take place on the same weekends as graduations.

There are wedding toasts and half-drunk aunts and uncles who pull giddy brides and grooms aside to whisper scary cautionary tales. Even though they are about to commence on a big new phase of their lives, there are no "commencement" speeches for the newest class of military husbands and wives.

And there should be. Navigating the working world is much easier than navigating military marriage.

So here is my commencement speech for 2014's new military spouses:

Never Let Go of You.

(That's my theme. Every good commencement speech has a theme.)

This military lifestyle will press you, mold you, flat out jam you into tiny spaces that are not comfortable, literally and figuratively. If you've ever made pasta from scratch, know that military life will make you feel like the dough.

The pressure to conform will be overwhelming at times. And it's OK to conform -- at times.

But there's this you that you were always meant to be, this you that makes you, you. Odds are pretty good that you know who that person is and you're pretty much him or her right now. Hang onto that.

When your military life is over, you'll want to be that person again and your years of military life will be happier if you never lose sight of the real you.

You see, the U.S. military does not care about your dreams. Not one bit. It can't. It has to care about saving the world.

It doesn't even care about your spouse's dreams. It can't. It has to care about saving the world. That's why you have to care about your dreams. No one else will care if you don't.

If there's something you want to do with your life, something that has absolutely nothing to do with being a military spouse, you must do it. You only get one life. You'll be doing no one any favors by becoming bitter and disgruntled because you didn't take the chances you were offered.

And you must take those chances when they are offered.

Know this, maybe even get it tattooed somewhere to remind you: The happiest military spouses are the ones who DON'T do all the stuff they think they're supposed to do.

Don't be tricked into believing that not doing these things will hurt your spouse's career. It won't. There are unmarried generals, admirals, chiefs and sergeants major. They seem to have made rank just fine without having a professional martyr at home.

Know that this is going to be an exhausting ride. No matter what you might think, it will not be like your friends' and relatives' non-military marriages. Many of your old friends will not understand this. You may even lose some friends because they do not understand.

Marriage books will be all but useless to you. The advice in most won't apply. Trying to make it apply will make you crazy.

This will be a ride filled with moments that people outside of this lifestyle will never get to experience. Some will be bad moments, but many will be amazing. Most will fill you with an almost embarrassing pride in yourself and in the people around you.

It will be the kind of pride that makes you cry when you hear the national anthem.

Eventually, you will stop caring that people can see you crying during the national anthem. In fact, you'll be filled with pity for the people who don't cry because you'll wonder if they've been blessed enough to enjoy experiences like the ones you've had.

You'll realize that the old you would never have cried during the national anthem, and you'll wonder if that means you've changed.

You'll realize that you have changed.

That's OK.

If you get to the end of your military journey and you still recognize and like yourself, that means you've won.

There are no medals for winning.

But knowing that you honored yourself, your spouse, your family and your country AND you lived your best possible life? Well, there's nothing better than that.

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Family and Spouse Military Marriage Rebekah Sanderlin

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Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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