“Congratulations! Today is your day!”
No, wait. That is someone else’s graduation speech, the best one ever written or shared during a commencement ceremony. Dr. Seuss lovers will recognize those five words as the beginning of his book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” which after 27 or so years is still a favorite graduation gift and speech.
Knowing that nobody can compete with Doctor Seuss, today I offer you what I humbly call the world’s second-best graduation speech ever:
To the Vinton-Shellsburg Class of Y2K17:
Always remember (and never forget) that:
The teacher who told you that you did well and you really could succeed at school — and life — was not just saying it to be nice or because that is the “teacher-ly” thing to say. Those teachers have watched a lot of students over the years and they can tell. Believe them when they believe in you.
Life is easier in one very big way than high school ever was — there’s no such thing as an “in-crowd.” You are not a “loser” because you didn’t have whatever it is that some students said you had to have to be a “winner.” In my school, it was, believe it or not, mopeds and matching maroon shirts.
Get out of town. Go as many places as you can. This is the best time of your life to explore life beyond the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. But still, no matter how far you go, always have some place to call home.
Learn to like the people you respected in high school. They are the ones you will want to hang out with when you are 30, and be seen with at your 20th class reunion.
Be smart enough to read the book. The first kid in our school who solved the Rubik’s Cube was Danny Thedens, who was several years ahead of other students his age in several subjects, especially math. When I saw Danny lining up the colors on the last row of the cube, I asked him where he learned to do that. I was expecting some sort of complex mathematical formula.
But what Danny Thedens said was, “I read the book.”
I realized that Danny solved the puzzle because was smart enough to read the book. He was smart enough to figure out the complex directions, but most of all, he was smart enough to know when he needed to learn from people who knew more about a subject than he did. Be smart enough to ask for advice and direction from anyone you think may be able to help you. (Danny, by the way, is now designing the latest medical imaging technology.)
Look at things that seem to go wrong as the beginning of other things — better things — that are going right.
Don’t screw up. If you do screw up, don’t give up. Then fix it and don’t screw up again.
Don’t despise anonymity. It’s better to be not known at all than to be known for doing something wrong. Everyone knows the names of those who committed atrocious acts of evil. But hardly anyone could tell you what they were trying to communicate by those acts.
If you know you have something to say, be heard. Don’t be surprised when people start listening, but don’t let it go to your head.
Be motivated by faith, not fear, but never stop looking both ways before you cross the street.
Remember that things are not always as they seem. Don’t ever forget that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by his favorite comic actor.
Keep a few of your class notes from high school. You will be surprised at how and when they can help. I used the notes from my ninth grade death and dying unit when I wrote about that teacher’s funeral 14 years later.
Laugh. Life is funny, even when it is sad, and even when it hurts.
Love your friends, but learn to enjoy being alone.
Remember that faith is more than believing in God. It’s knowing that God believes in you.
Learn to stop when you get to the end, and shut up when there is nothing left to say.