High School Commencement Address

I look out at the class of 2007 with mixed feelings. On the one hand I see the clean-limbed, lithe children of the West; flexible, invincible, and above all, optimistic.

On the other hand I see the product of a generation that is overstimulated, overindulged, overpraised and both over- and undereducated. A generation that knows about sex but cannot balance a checkbook. A generation that views Credit Cards more as status symbols than as the tools of economic slavery that they are.

I see a class where the commonest grade is an A, a C is considered underperforming and D and E grades are almost unheard of. If those grades were to be taken seriously, about 80% of you are above average. Those of you who took statistics know that this is mathematically impossible.

For many of you, the final year of High School has been a cruise. I hope that you enjoyed the year; for most of you life will never again be that easy or problem-free. For a few of you, this day is the culmination of a long, hard year of struggle. You have found your limits, tested them, pushed and expanded them. I salute your achievement.

Norman Douglas, the British Writer, once said “If we want children to succeed, we must stop giving them things“.  Sadly, those of you who have been pampered, cosseted and showered with gifts are the least likely to succeed. Those who got a brand new car or somesuch for graduating are the ones that I feel truly sorry for.

There is an old tale about two frogs that somehow became trapped in a bucket of milk. One frog, who was more intelligent than his compadre, said “What’s the point? There’s no way out. We can’t paddle all night. We’re dead” With that, he stopped paddling, slipped beneath the surface, and drowned. The second frog kept on paddling until eventually he whipped up a little island of butter. Exhausted, he crawled onto the island, and waited until morning, when the milkmaid threw him out.

I have found that the brightest people are rarely the success stories.  This is because the race does not go to the swift, the strong or the ruthless. It goes to those whose bloody-minded stubbornness will not allow them the luxury of giving up.

For those of you who have had a long hard struggle, who had to work hard for everything you have, whose parents may not be able to put you through college, you have already learned the value of tenacity, and you are, in my book, the most likely to succeed.

Almost all of you hope to surpass your parents. Some will, most won’t. Too many of you have parents who fervently hope that you won’t repeat their mistakes. Sadly, many of you will. To many teenagers, parents are clueless at best, killjoys at worst. This is nothing new. Mark Twain once said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

Very little that you have done before this day will make a difference or matter ten years from now. The prom, cheerleading, sports, boyfriends, girlfriends and all of those things that you spent much of the last year obsessing over are destined to become footnotes in your life, if they are remembered at all. Three years from now, the name of your High School will not matter, except, perhaps, as a personal identification question when talking to a Customer Service person in a cube hundreds – or thousands – of miles away.

What we celebrate today is the completion of the life-equivalent of boot camp; basic training. Don’t expect any medals or promotions; you have not yet seen battle.

In conclusion, Larry Elder said “You need only do three things to avoid poverty in this country:

  1. Finish high school.
  2. Marry before having a child.
  3. Produce the child after the age of 20.

Only 8 percent of families who do this are poor;
79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor.

Congratulations on achieving one of those goals.

Now Reading: Stealing your Life, by Frank W. Abagnale

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