I’ve always sort of wanted to deliver a graduation speech. I’ll never be asked to do that, certainly not where I teach. One can’t be a prophet in one’s hometown, so to speak. While I routinely receive sincere praise from kids and parents for my teaching efforts, I’m not the sort of popular that is usually chosen for such things. I’m fine with that. But if, by some bizarre stroke of fate I were invited to deliver a commencement address, this is what I might say:
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, graduates, and people who just wandered in wondering what all the noise was about. It has been an honor to teach here, lo these many years. I have tried to interest you in learning, to convince you there is more to life than smart phones, social media, video games and less savory means of wasting time and lives. I have, every day, given you bite-sized glimpses of the reality of life in our daily sayings. And I have loved you, and cared about you, and spent tens of thousands of dollars of my own money, and innumerable hours of my own time to ensure you had the learning opportunity you deserved.
Some of you have taken full advantage of that opportunity. Others have taken partial advantage, others have not managed even that. Some just took advantage, yet here you all sit.
At the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, the most renowned speaker of his time, Edward Everett was the featured speaker. He spoke for two hours. Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in less than three minutes. No one remembers what Everett said, but Lincoln’s speech will live as long as man endures. I doubt that will be true of what I say here today, but I’ll follow Lincoln’s model, at least in terms of time.
High school is only a form of reality. When your hats fly, real reality descends with them.
Life is hard–it has always been hard–and no one owes you anything. Get used to it. Suck it up and drive on.
When you were born in America, you won the lottery. There is no place on Earth where you have a greater chance of overcoming the difficulties of life and prospering. The only thing holding you back is you.
The only reliable measure of character is not how you behave when things are easy, but when they aren’t.
You are responsible for how you feel, for how much and how hard you work, for your failure or success, no one else.
If you attend a real college, no one will care about your political leanings and your tender sensibilities. You’re going to have to perform, or you’re going to fail and waste a huge amount of money.
If you go to college, chose a major that will help you make a living. Remember: no one owes you anything!
If you go out into the world of work, your employers are going to demand you be reliable, on time, make customers want to come back, and do the job well. That’s real reality. Why should they settle for less?
When you accept a job, shut up, pay attention, learn what is appreciated and rewarded, and do that and more. Always be willing to do what’s necessary to get the job done.
Do your best to make others glad to see you rather than doing their best to avoid you.
There are few things more important, memorable and meaningful you can give others than your time and undivided attention.
Gentlemen, when a young lady is speaking to you, shut up, look her in the eye, and actually pay attention to what she is saying. Make her feel there is nothing more important to you than hearing what she has to say that moment. Women like that, they need it and you’ll probably learn something.
The sign above the blackboard in my classroom applies, there and in life: be kind, thoughtful and helpful.
Live the golden Rule, but supercharge it: be better to others than you expect them to be to you.
We talked about learning to pay attention. You’re better at it, but you have a long way to go: a lifetime. So get your face out of your smart phone and take the damned earbuds out of your ears.
Mark Twain was right: never let your schooling get in the way of your education. You educate you, no one else. Teachers only provide the opportunity. Now that you have the rudimentary tools–that’s what the last 12 years have been about; didn’t you know that?–your education is just beginning.
Want to be smarter, regardless of whether you go to college? READ! Read and think about what you’ve read. Books are helpful in this endeavor.
Be a part of something bigger than yourself. Everyone, particularly if you have no idea what comes next, should consider serving your country in our military. If you embrace it, it will make you better.
Finally–I told you I’d keep it short–remember 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
That’s it. Choose to be positive every day. Greet everyone with a smile and a kind word. Look both ways when crossing the street. Put that down; you’ll put someone’s eye out. Don’t run with scissors, and when out there in the big, wide world, hold hands and stick together.
The future is yours–if you you’ll just put down the damned smart phone!