Saturday, June 2, 2018

To The Graduating Class of 2018

Generally, yesterday represented the end of the school year.  The last day of class and many graduations across the state and country.  And my thoughts go to the wisdom that many will try to impart last night and today through those ceremonies in commencement speeches, while the newly free minds will be focused on one thing and one thing only: walking across that stage so that everything is finally finished.

I know of no reason why I would ever be asked to give a commencement speech, but were such an occasion ever to present itself, this is what I was say.  (I should note, that the speech itself probably gives good reason why I'll never be asked to do so.)


Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, administration and faculty, graduating class of 2018, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.  I hope you know how much of an honor I consider this to be, to be given the opportunity to impart one more lesson on this special night.

Though I realize it was twenty years ago when I was in your position, that time seems to have galloped by.  And remembering how I felt that night, I will try to keep these comments brief, and hopefully a little entertaining, so that we can get to the part of the ceremony that everyone is truly here for.

Tonight is a moment of transition.  The point where a chapter closes and an entirely new chapter begins.  For some, that is continued academic pursuit through college or trade school.  For some, that means the enlistment in the service of our country.  For some, that means the beginning of their profession.  Many, many different chapters, different stories starting here.  Tonight. 

In that vein, I want to impart a few wishes for you as you new story begins.

First, I hope you fail.  Good and hard.  At something you really wanted to achieve and worked for.  

Because that means you stretched yourself outside the known and comfortable.  You tried something new.  And you cared enough to give it your all.  

It means you are growing.

Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas."  After that, he started a number of businesses that did not last too long, ending in bankruptcy and failure.  He lost his only creative success at the time to a rival, when Oswald the Lucky Rabbit went to Universal.  But he kept plugging away and found a recipe for success that worked, all thanks to a little mouse.  Walt would later state "It is good to have a failure while you're young because it teaches you so much...and once you've lived through the worst, you're never quite as vulnerable afterward."

And you can see this occur repeatedly in the lives of people that we find successful now.  Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she "wasn't fit for TV."  The Beatles were rejected by Decca Recording because they "didn't like their sound" and stated that they "have no future in show business."  Albert Einstein's teachers said he would "never amount to much."  J.K. Rowling was rejected by publisher after publisher until she found one that would finally publish her little book series.

Failure is only a problem if you do not learn anything from it.  If you never try again.  So when you fail, approach it like a scientist.  That particular experiment did not work, so change the variables.  

Or approach it like an artist.  Revise and go back to the drawing board.  Or like an athlete.  Get back up off the mat and keep swinging.

Whatever metaphor works for you, use it.  Let it be your drive.  Try, fail, try again with changes from whatever you have learned.  And then repeat the cycle.  Just keep at it.

Second, I hope you get your heart broken.

Because it means you have one.

And this is not just about romantic love.  Far from it.  It's about being willing to be charitable and gracious to your fellow man.  To look for the good in those around you.  Being open and a part of the community around you, rather than an isolated individual.

People today are more connected to one another than ever before in human history.  We have so many communication tools that enable us to remain in contact on a global scale like never before.  But we are also more lonely and distant from one another in our unplugged lives.  

Human beings were not meant to function as islands.  We are social creatures - science shows we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.  C.S. Lewis described humanity as "one great need."  We are all apart of this need and we need each other more than we would care to admit.

I know there are many of you here tonight who have reason to be cautious, reason to be distrusting because of what has occurred in your lives.  I recognize and understand.  Do be cautious, do be measured, but please do not let your past and the bad actions of others completely isolate you from the world.  There are resources available that can help.  And there are avenues and causes to which you can contribute.

So care.  Be passionate and embrace your causes and those around you.  We've seen where division gets us.  Let's try a new approach.

Next, I hope you question everything you believe in.

Because only then will you know what you truly believe.  What you are willing to stand for.

Part of growing up is learning who you are.  Discovering you identity.  And what you really believe.  All to often we try to hold on to "inherited beliefs,"  those that were passed on to us by our parents, our teachers, or the community we grew up in.  The problem with "inherited beliefs" is that they rarely take root because they are not earned or experienced, just observed.

James Baldwin wrote "people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them."  Far too many people are trapped in the beliefs of others around them.  They live the lives they believe they are supposed to live.  And are doing so half-heartedly, at best, or begrudgingly at worst.

My hope is that from this day forward you start exploring the world around you in such a way that leads you to formulate your own firmly held beliefs derived from experience and knowledge.  And for you to keep refining them.  For you to read, read, read, read and explore any areas you have questions about.  For you to ask others and listen far more than you speak.  For you to continue to re-evalute, refine, and refresh your beliefs based on new information and experiences.

I hope you to travel.  Mark Twain put it best when he said "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.  Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."  Go see the world and explore places you never thought you would visit.  Get to know the people there and let them inform your understanding of the world.

I hope you make a variety of new friends.  You do not need more friends that think and act exactly like you.  Make friends with people who challenge you.  Who disagree with you.  And who aren't afraid to discuss these differences with you.  Iron sharpens iron only when it meets at an angle; from a different perspective.  

Discover who you are and from here on, live life only as that person.

Finally, I hope that high school represents the worst years of your life.

Because, I hope, your best days are ahead of you.

I hope none of you have had any truly horrific experiences from these past four years.  To any that have, my deepest and heartfelt condolences.  I pray for healing and comfort for you and those affected.

I wanted to address this topic to specifically address a mindset that can become all too prevalent.  To view high school as "the glory days."  "The greatest years of my life."  

Your best years should be ahead of you.  Tonight should represent merely the closing of an early chapter in your book, in which I pray you have many, many more chapters ahead.  And that is where the plot should get really good.

I know some of you here tonight are waiting, almost impatiently, for something different than high school.  You never quite fit in, never felt you belonged, you were just ready to get out.  And I can say, that while somethings never change, generally, yes, it does get better.

For those of you that are not ready to leave this behind, let me challenge you to run toward the new opportunities in your path.  Remember, there are so many ways now to keep in contact with your roots here.  Cherish those connections, but make new ones as well.

And to those of you that feel trapped by your current circumstances, please know that it can get better.  It may take a fight and it may be long and hard fought, but there is a way.

Because truly, I'm counting on you all to make this a better world.  Your generation has shown a remarkable resilience and desire to change things for the better.  I need you to go out and do incredible things.  To make new inventions, to write new music, to make us laugh, to enact new policies and laws, to raise incredible children.  To protect us.  To defend us. To entertain us.  To correct us.  To lead us.

So go live your story.  And then tell us about it.  

I cannot wait to hear how it turns out.

Thank you.

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