"We are pleased to introduce our faculty speaker, Mr. Edward Cullen. Mr. Cullen has a Bachelor of Science in Business from Notre Dame and received his Juris Doctorate from Harvard. Mr. Cullen is an adjunct professor and is a senior partner at Watson Cullen Law. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Cullen to the stage."

Warm applause echoed through the auditorium as a handsome man rose from his seat on stage. He was dressed in his own graduation robes with a red sash from his alma mater and three prominent stripes on each of his arms, signifying the status of his degree. He was wearing a doctorate cap, and underneath it, one could spot unruly bronze hair, doing its best to repel the hat.

Edward stood up to the podium and placed his hands firmly on each side of it. He addressed the audience with a warm, calm smile in response to their clapping and waited for the applause to subside.

"I will endeavor to keep this brief, as I know many of you are still in the heart of preparing to take the bar exam," he said with a knowing grin. "After my own graduation, I took approximately three pictures to humor my mother, gave my dad a hug and then promptly returned to my apartment to eat a frozen burrito and zealously review years' worth of notecards."

There were sympathetic chuckles from the audience, especially from the students who were graduating from William Mitchell Law School. Esme grinned and shook her head to herself in the audience. Her pride was clear to see as she watched her son speak. Carlisle sat next to her, his own pride just as warm and just as obvious as his wife's.

"When I was asked to speak at your graduation, I was both honored and confused," he confessed easily. "Usually a faculty member who is much wiser and has a lighter color of hair than myself is asked to speak, and with good reason. I haven't had the professional and personal life experiences as many of the professors here, and at first, I had no idea what wisdom or advice I could impart on you."

Edward smiled over at some of his coworkers on stage, the ones with white hair who were chuckling at his comment. He paused for a second and then continued.

"I could be inspirational, but I don't think that's inherently a strength of mine, so I decided to stay away from that. I could offer you knowledge, but you've had years of that offered to you at this point, and I don't want to risk putting any of you sleep deprived students to sleep. I could be optimistic, and tell you that this is the beginning of the rest of a long, happy, and perfect life. I could be all of these, but I've decided to be real with all of you, just one last time."

Edward cleared his throat and shifted slightly, but didn't let any nerves show as he addressed the hundreds of people looking up at him. Some were students who had thoroughly enjoyed his classes, some were their parents, grandparents and proud family members, and some were his own family and friends, showing their support

"You are all bright, gifted, and have immense talent. You were all chosen for this program for a reason and you have not only met, but exceeded our expectations in your years at our school. You all have bright and successful future in front of you; everyone has told you that, and it's true. But today, I want to tell you that that bright and successful future is bright but it's hard. And I'm giving you all permission to accept the fact that life is hard, no matter how smart, likeable, talkative, or friendly you are.

"As you set off in different directions, you will all certainly have a wide variety of life experiences that make up the collective human experience. And some of them will suck, to be frank. They will just suck."

"After my graduation, I began to work for my father and I enjoyed the work I was doing and I was good at it. I was making good money, I had good friends, and my family was all I could ask for. Transitioning to the professional world after being in the academic world all of my life was almost seamless to me, despite the fact that many struggled with that transition. I was good to go. I met a girl, settled down with her, bought a house, had a kid, the works. I was doing everything I was suppose to be doing. If I'm honest with myself, I sometimes wonder who makes this path the required one for life, but I did not question the path, and I was going down it happily."

"Mama, I can't hear Daddy…"

"Shhh, sweetie. We have to be quiet," a beautiful brunette woman hushed her daughter who was wiggling around in her seat, trying to see around all of the adults in front of her.

Her large uncle sitting next to her grinned and easily scooped up the child onto his lap, where she settled in happily. Bella tossed him a thankful smile before looking back towards her husband.

"And then one night, that girl that I settled down with went out to get some cough medicine for our daughter, and didn't come back. A semi-truck crushed through her car and put her in a coma which she was in for approximately 24 hours before she was taken off life support."

The silence in the audience was hard and intense.

"And all of the sudden, the rest of it didn't matter. It didn't matter that I had done well in my undergrad career and been successful in law school and in my career that followed. None of that protected me from the hard reality that my life was. My world collapsed and I was left with the breathtaking, painstaking reality that life is the hardest thing a person has to go through. Life is unexpected, it's brilliant, it's exciting, and it can be so impossibly painful and overwhelming. And I didn't know how to handle it. I didn't know how to keep it together, and I tried my best to grasp at the safe and comfortable reality that my world had been before that night.

"No one had told me what to do when life became so difficult. No one warned me that your world could crumble so violently. No one told me that when life turns tricky, that it's okay. It's okay that life's hard. It's okay to be in pain and it's okay to feel overwhelmed when life throws curveballs at you. People didn't know what to tell me, because I'd never had to face such a hard situation."

Edward took a breath for a moment to steady himself.

"So today, I'm telling you that no matter how hard you try, sometimes, the future ahead of you can be more difficult than you would ever expect.

"But, I'm also here to tell you that when you don't know what to do, that's okay. You're all smart, but none of you are Superman. None of you have to always have the answers. None of you have to always have it together. Life gets to be hard at times. It gets to be messy, and the answers don't get to be in textbooks. It just gets to be hard."

A toddler stirred at the pause. Bella looked down at her son, holding her breath and hoping that he didn't wake up from where he was rested against her shoulder. When he didn't further move, she placed a kiss on his warm head and enjoyed the warmth of his sweet, toddler weight.

"When you're in a hard time, I want you all to remember that you have support around you beyond your wildest dreams. You have family and friends that love you and want nothing but the best for your future. You have the knowledge and education you need to flourish. You'll all be alright.

"And I'm here to remind you that the darkest time of day is before dawn. From that terrible part of my life, I found support and comfort. I found friendship and love. I discovered a part of myself that I would have never found, and that part makes me my best self. I once again found laughter and love and light and was reminded of how good the world can be. That terrible time gave way to the best time of of my life."

Edward's eyes found Bella's in the audience and the two of them smiled to each other for a moment.

"Your future is always bright. It will be filled with times of trial, but it will always be bright. And when it gets hard, surround yourself with love and support, and you will make it through. I am a better man because of that support and love and I would not be here today without it."

Edward paused for a moment and then gave the students an easy grin. "You'll all be all right. The world is yours – go chase happiness. And go eat that frozen burrito."

Hi all! This has been running through my head for the past couple of weeks since I was assisting with freshmen with moving into and getting settled into the university. I think there's such a pressure for everything to be awesome and the best years of your life, and I don't think people tell you enough that it's okay if things are difficult - things will always get better.

I also have a new story out! (I know I said that wouldn't happen, but that writing bug bit me again.) Unsteady is being posted in weekly increments and it's an exciting story.

You can check it out at www . fanfiction s/12143266/1/Unsteady

Much love! -carm