Friday, May 24, 2019

To the Graduating Class of 2019

In Wills Point, tonight represented the end of the school year.  The last day of class, with graduation tomorrow morning.  My thoughts go to the wisdom that many will try to impart through 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.

Like last year, 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, again, 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 2019, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.  It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here and to join in this celebration and transition in your lives.

Though I realize it was [unpronounceable] years ago when I was in your position, that time seems to have galloped by. In that spirit, 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.

When you look at the years in which you all have come of age, it's pretty incredible.  A majority of you were never alive when the Twin Towers stood, and we have been at constant war throughout your entire life.  You have also lived through years where school shootings and violence have been a common occurrence, with Columbine occurring a good two years before most of you were born.

You are the social media generation, with MySpace and Facebook coming online when you were toddlers.  As such, you have grown up in an era when your entire life is an open book online, for all its good and ill.

You've also come through school as we have increasingly attacked the foundation of your education.  Added test after test.  Expected teachers to do more with less, seeing them still work magic.  And seen cuts after cuts to different programs in your schools.

With this in mind, I have an initial message that I would like to pass along that I feel needs to be said:

You are stronger and more formidable than anyone has believed.  And your generation has demonstrated more determination to change the world than any of the immediately preceding ones.

And it's because of that determination, I have a few things I'd like to ask you to consider, so that you do better than all us previous generations combined.

  1. Get a trade - no doubt you have heard a lot of advice regarding college and how everyone needs to go to college. While college is great, it's not for everyone and there is a great need for people to go into various trades.  Trade schools are a great way to get practical education in a variety of fields that are in demand.  For electricians and technicians.  For welders, for machinists, mechanics, and operators.  For builders.  For fixers.  For makers.  Do not undervalue the importance of skilled labor.  And if that is your calling or your gift, please consider it.
  2. Stay involved - It has been refreshing to see the youth voices in politics and political issues and we need you to stay involved.  We need you to be good citizens.  To stay updated on current events.  To be active voters, demonstrators, protesters, organizers, contributors, donors, voices.  There are complete systems we need new voices in to completely restructure.  There are causes that need to be championed.  There are rights, institutions, and traditions that need to be protected.  And we're counting on you to be involved.
  3. Take care of the planet - there is a lot of talk about how much time we have to save the planet before it becomes too late.  And whether that time can be measured in single years, decades, or centuries, it is important for us to be better stewards of the place that we call home.  Our ocean is filling with trash and plastic.  There are tens of thousands of species that are facing extinction each year.  And we're running out of basic elements that have long factored into our biosphere like helium.  The good news is that the solutions to help solve these crises that we are facing will come from your generation.  It's a terrible inheritance, but it is one that we all need to be committed to facing.
  4. Set better priorities - The last thing we need for you to do is make corporations and shareholders more money.  We've seen the results of that and we know where that path leads.  Instead, create better art.  Make life better.  Enact better policy.  Solve the work-life balance through better companies and better policies.  Raise and educate kids better.  Have better relationships.  No one at the end of their life wished they spent more time at work.  They might wish they had done something greater or more fulfilling.  Seek that out instead.
  5. Treat the world as your neighborhood - With the great strides in communication and travel, there is no reason to not be a greater citizen of the world.  Go see and learn about other countries.  Experience life somewhere else.  Learn a new language.  Engage with different cultures, different races, different religions.  Take the time to see how similar we truly all are.  
  6. Be kind - finally, be kind.  Always, be kind.  Be charitable and kind.  We live in an ugly world and you have seen more of the ugliness through media and social media than any of us.  We don't need to do anything to add to the ugliness.  So why not combat it.  Add to the kindness.  The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying "The purpose of our life needs to be positive.  We weren't born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others.  For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic human qualities - warmth, kindness, compassion.  Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful - happier."  Let that be our motto.
I know that is a pretty heavy list and it is a very lofty goal.  But I can assure you, it is worth it.  We need you and we believe in you.  Tonight represents a transition in which you close an early chapter of your book and start off on a wild new adventure.  And I know that among you, that adventure is going to lead to exciting new discoveries, to great change, and needed healing.  It will bring challenges and surprises.  

Please don't give up.  We're counting on you.

You got this.

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