My parents were married on June 25, 1955. On March 25, 1956 (nine months to the day after my parents’ wedding), my brother Dave was born. In 1957, my sister Karen; 1958, Perry; 1959, Chris; 1960, Kim. Then my parents slowed down for a while and only had six more of us over the next ten years. I was last, born in 1970, the youngest of eleven.
So when you are the youngest of eleven, as you might expect, your parents are tired. They have other things on their mind and it is easy to get lost in the shuffle.
For example, I missed my first ever day of school. I went to Dunbar Elementary School in Tallmadge for kindergarten, and I was assigned to the afternoon class. On the first day of school I stood at the end of my driveway waiting for the bus…and waiting…and waiting. And it never came. My mom called the bus garage, and realized I was actually scheduled for morning kindergarten. One day in, and my chance at perfect attendance was already flushed down the toilet.
But the next day I tried again. I got up early, and sure enough the bus came to take me to school. When I arrived at school I was quickly overwhelmed. All of the other kids knew exactly what to do, where to put their stuff, where to sit. They all knew each other’s names and were laughing and playing with one another. And here I was, a four year old (I wouldn’t turn five for another month) who had no idea who or what anything was. I felt so out of place.
To make things worse, this one red haired kid–whose name I later would learn was Dave Varga–had drawn this incredible picture of a dinosaur. It was absolutely amazing. I had never seen such a beautiful dinosaur in my life. It looked so real, and had so many colors. I actually remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I am so over my head here. I do not belong in kindergarten. I can’t draw a dinosaur like that. How am I ever going to make it in life if I can’t draw a dinosaur like that? Mom is going to be so disappointed in me.”
This is how much better at art Dave was than I: in third grade I drew this picture of a bird in art class using only a red crayon. Red body, red beak, red feet, red eyes. I got a C-. My oldest brother Dave–who was 15 years older than me–always had a saying: if you can’t be anything else in life, be a bad example. When I showed Dave my solid red bird, with a solid red C-, Dave gave me some bad advice: go tell your teacher that your brother thinks she has no taste in art. So the next day I did. That did not go over well. And when I got home my mom made sure my butt was as red as my bird.
So anyway, the other Dave–Dave Varga–had drawn such an awesome dinosaur that I was distraught for the rest of my school career. I spent most of kindergarten just sitting by myself at the music center, listening to the song “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell on a record with those big headphones, over and over and over. Mr. Campbell was singing about making it big in the music business, about being where the lights are shining on him, about being so famous that he was getting cards and letters from people he doesn’t even know. It sounded exactly like the kind of thing that can happen to people who don’t miss their first day of kindergarten.
I then spent the next eight years struggling at a Catholic school, where Sr. Shirley sent me to the hall for saying I hate math, and Mr. Yeager kicked me off the safety patrol for extortion, and Mrs. Anderson gave me a week’s detention for throwing paper airplanes with hat pins sticking out the front of them.
Then, in 9th grade I went back to Tallmadge for high school. In my Spanish class was this red haired kid. His book cover had all sorts of awesome doodles on it, and I quickly realized who this was. “You’re Dave!” I said. “We were in kindergarten together! You drew an awesome dinosaur on the second day of school!”
“Yes,” he said. “And also we go to the same church and have gone to Mass together every Sunday for the past eight years.”
Sometimes I am not the most observant person.
But it turns out Dave was a genius. First, he was a brilliant artist. You know how you guys have the Skin Squad at football games, and don’t wear shirts and paint GO KNIGHTS on your chests? Well in my day we had the bleacher bums. We all wore white coveralls that we decorated. I had no talent, so I asked Dave to make mine. Check it out.
In addition to art, Dave took four years of Spanish and four years of Russian. One time he was at the chalkboard writing a sentence in Spanish, and when he got to the end of the blackboard, he started writing backwards the other direction, so that if the blackboard was glass and you were on the other side, you could read it.
Dave was killed in a car accident about nine months after graduation. He was not drinking. But he was speeding, and he was not wearing his seat belt. But that is not why I am telling you about him.
I’m telling you about him because when I saw his awesome dinosaur I went into a “Rhinestone Cowboy” cocoon. Seeing Dave’s greatness made me doubt my own. I didn’t realize then that Dave being a genius did not mean that I was any less of a person.
In about an hour you guys are all going to be done with high school forever. I know you are excited about that, but I am guessing you have a little fear, too. Soon you’ll be starting college or a job or entering the military, and you may find yourself thinking “I can’t draw a dinosaur” while comparing yourself to everyone who can. But what I want you to know is, you don’t have to draw a great dinosaur to be a great person. What you do have to do is take the gifts and talents you have, and do everything you can to develop those to the best of your ability.
You may have heard it said that “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Every one of you has something that you are awesome at. It might be art. It might be math. You might be a great musician, or an actor, or maybe you can fix cars or counsel friends in need. It could be anything. Don’t waste your gifts, and never doubt yourself. Figure out what it is that you can do, and then do it.
Now let’s talk about that other Dave, Dave Clark, my brother, the brother who told me to tell my teacher she had no taste in art. Dave once hit me in the head with a sledge hammer. That was an accident. He also made me scrub our shower using my toothbrush. That was on purpose.
My brother Dave is now a teacher. But before that, he worked for my dad, who owned a small rubber company.
Now, all families have “stuff.” To give you a brief glimpse into my family’s “stuff,” my dad fired my brother Dave–his oldest son–from the rubber company. Thanksgiving that year was interesting.
But let me tell you this about my brother Dave, the guy who once pinned me down on our kitchen table and shoved lime jello down my pants. As my dad grew older and less able to get around, my brother Dave was at his house ALL THE TIME, mowing his huge lawn, or fixing his tractors, or feeding his chickens, or working on the tons of issues with my dad’s pond.
And when my dad was hospitalized or in assisted living for the last eight months of his life or so, Dave was always there visiting, keeping my dad company and telling him he loved him.
So for a guy who says, “If you can’t be anything else in life, be a bad example,” Dave is a pretty good example. He’s an example about the importance of forgiveness, and he’s an example about the importance of serving others.
Most of you are going to go on to be incredibly successful. You’ll have great jobs and be leaders of your communities. But none of that will be as important as how you treat other people. As you go through life, remember to forgive those who hurt you, and help those who need it. That’s a lesson I learned from my brother Dave.
And because we are talking about Daves, let’s talk about one more: Dave Broman.
Nordonia students, you have had the opportunity over the past four years to live with one of the happiest people on earth. You will not find another person in the world who loves life as much as Mr. Broman. I would bet not one of you has ever seen Mr. Broman in a bad mood. Even if he was suspending you, you always knew he cared.
Mr. Broman genuinely appreciates all gifts in life. And I am friends with Mr. Broman; I know he’s had tough times in life, I know he’s suffered loss, I know he’s dealt with all kinds of stuff like we all do. But I have never once heard him complain, and I have never heard him say a mean word to anyone.
Mr. Broman also is a great role model in how he lives his life. He’s early to bed and early to rise; he loves his AC/DC, but he doesn’t live a rock-n-roll lifestyle. He even eats healthy. I have been to dinner with him many times, and when I am ordering a double cheeseburger, Mr. Broman is keeping healthy and asking for a salad or a box of raisins or something like that.
If I have learned anything from Mr. Broman, it is to be grateful for the gifts in my life and for my life itself. Mr. Broman is grateful for every day, and he lives every day with a positive attitude.
Nordonia High School class of 2018, as you get ready to enter life after high school, my advice for you is to live like the three Daves. Use the talents you have been given without fear like Dave Varga. Be forgiving and care for one another like Dave Clark. And appreciate the gifts you have been given and show gratitude like Dave Broman.
We are so proud of you. Congratulations, and good luck!