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What I wish my graduation speaker had said

Posted: May 15, 2017 4:26 p.m.
Updated: May 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.

At the end of this month, our high school seniors will be walking across the stage to receive their diplomas. High school graduation is a big accomplishment and one to be proud of. It’s an occasion to celebrate the accomplishments of 13 years of school and to remember all the important experiences of these years.

I’m pretty old. I graduated from high school in 1971. But even 46 years later, I remember my graduation day vividly and wonder where the time has gone. As I have reflected about this, I started thinking about what I wish my graduation speaker had said and about the lessons that I have had to learn the hard way. For what it’s worth, a few thoughts for graduates…

You have to prove yourself every day.

Whether you are going to college, into the work world, or into the military, or some combination, your professor, your boss or your commanding officer really won’t know much about you or what you have accomplished up to now. If you haven’t necessarily worked up to your potential in the past, you now have the opportunity for a “do over.” If you have done well in the past, it doesn’t matter that much unless you keep doing it. You have a clean slate to write on either way. The past is just that. By the way, this isn’t going to change as you go through the various stages of your life. Believe me.

Small things matter. 

Seemingly small things make a big difference. Being on time, being appropriately dressed, looking people in the eye when you talk to them, being polite and courteous, being respectful, and having a firm handshake are just a few of attributes that will open doors and create opportunities for you. I think they’re called “soft skills” now. My mom called them “good manners.” These kinds of behaviors give others a strong and lasting positive impression of you.

You’ll start at the bottom. 

It’s natural and reasonable to aspire to be the boss and to be at the top of whatever endeavor you choose. However, you will start at the bottom and have to work your way up. This is not a bad thing. In working your way up the ladder, you will learn a lot and grow in knowledge and skills that will help you to ultimately be a much better at whatever you do. Be patient and go through the process to grow. 

Stuff will go wrong. 

No matter how hard you work and how much you plan, things will sometimes go south. When this occurs, and it will, you can throw up your hands and howl at the moon or you can figure out how to bounce back and turn things around. The way in which you choose to handle adversity will have a lot of impact on your long-term success. Looking back now, what I am most proud of are the times I had to work my way through a difficult set of circumstances. 

You will mess up. 

We all make mistakes. The question really is whether or not we keep repeating the same mistakes or learn from them. When you mess up, take responsibility for it and learn the lesson you need to from the situation. Pointing fingers and blaming everything or everyone else will not get you anywhere you really want to go. People really don’t want to hear excuses and rationalizing.

You have to learn to work with people that you don’t like. 

There are simply people out there that you won’t particularly like, and some that won’t particularly like you. However, to be successful, you will have to figure out how to have a productive working relationship with such people. You don’t have to hang out with them, or be a social media friend, but you have to be able to deal with them.

The world does not revolve around you. 

We all tend to see things from our own point of view. This does not mean the rest of the world sees things the same way we might. To be successful, you need to be able to look at things from the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t agree. You are not the center of the universe. And you might actually learn something valuable from being open to another point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.

Communicate without the phone. 

I don’t have any issue with smartphones and social media; that genie is way out of the bottle. But, you have to be able to communicate face-to-face, to connect without the phone. The best personal and professional relationships are not usually developed on Snapchat. The relationships that will mean the most to you over time will be the ones that evolve from meaningful personal interaction rather than cryptic texts. 

A positive attitude will take you a long way. 

If you think about it, this just makes sense. None of us want to hang around someone who is always negative and cynical. A positive attitude will make others want to be around you and make problems and setbacks seem a lot more solvable. There’s lots of factors you can’t control, but you can control your own attitude. A positive attitude will cause people to want to be around you and will create many opportunities for you professionally, personally and socially. 

The world has changed a lot, but I believe that these are some fundamentals that haven’t changed and never will. 

I’m always pleased to talk with folks about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district website. I also invite community members to read my “blog,” which can also be reached through a link on the homepage of the district website. In addition, I do a podcast after each School Board meeting summarizing the meeting. This podcast can also be accessed through a link on the district homepage.


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