I remember exactly what I was doing 18 years ago tonight. I was sitting on the couch watching Seinfeld, while my wife kept pacing around the room complaining of pain in her back. In fact, she kept me up all night long pacing around the room until morning when I finally said, “You know, I think you might be in labor.”
She said, “That’s impossible, I’m not due for two weeks.”
And I said, “please just call the doctor before I leave for work.’
She called, and, long story short, a few hours later my son Isaac was born. Tomorrow he turns 18, and on Sunday he will graduate and I’ll be where you are, listening to some other superintendent give a speech when all I really want to hear is my kid’s name be called.
That was 18 years ago. 18 years. Parents, you went through the same experience I did about 18 years ago. You brought a life into the world, you blinked, and here you are. I don’t know about you, but that time has flown.
Class of 2013, I’m sure the past 18 years hasn’t gone as fast for you as it has for your parents.
But I bet the past four years has.
Do you believe that you are sitting here already? Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that you first heard Mr. Broman yell, “Life’s a party! Don’t be tardy!”
So as I’m speaking to you today, parents, I feel as if I am sitting right there with you. And students, I feel as if I’m speaking to my own kids. So what I want to do tonight is give you the exact same advice I’ll be giving my own son as he graduates.
There are just two things I want you to keep in mind. Two things. It’s nothing profound. It’s nothing dying men whisper on their deathbeds. It’s nothing you’d climb a mountain to hear from a wise sage. But it’s what I want you to think about tonight.
First, your life is the most precious gift you have ever been given. Live it. Don’t treat your life like you did those countless toys you’ve gotten through the years, the ones you played with for a little while then crammed in a closet only to later give to Goodwill or sell at a garage sale.
Your life is a gift. Live it. Because before you know it you will be sitting at your own son or daughter’s graduation wondering where the time went.
Tonight you are sitting with some of your best friends in the world. You’ve shared some great times together and have some great stories. Games, concerts, Spirit Week, your first car…
I remember my best friend from high school: Jelly Bean. His real name was Jeff, but once he dedicated a song on the radio to his sweetums from his Jelly Bean and we never let him live that down. (I suppose my third piece of advice would be gentlemen, never let your friends know your girlfriend’s pet name for you).
I remember my first car: a red 1978 Ford Fairmont with white vinyl interior I bought from my sister. One night I was riding with Jelly Bean and smelled smoke. I turned on the overhead light to see smoke pouring out of the steering wheel column. I fanned it away and kept driving, only to find nothing electrical worked anymore.
I remember some great times. Once Jelly Bean was out of town and I had to drive his girlfriend Claudine home from a church group. It started to rain really hard. I turned to Claudine and said, “Claudine, you’re my best friend’s girlfriend. And here we are alone in my car. It’s dark and the rain is falling. Will you please do me one little favor? Lean out the window and try to make my wipers move. My car caught on fire last week and nothing works!”
I remember that story like it was yesterday. But it was 25 years ago! I haven’t seen Jelly Bean or Claudine in 20 years. And all I can do now is think back to those good old days wishing I had a time machine so I could live them over.
But I do have a time machine. We all do. It’s right here in our head. And we can use it to visit the past and feel sad for great times that we can never have again. But instead of reminiscing about the past, my advice is to live your life.
You never know when will be the last time you will see someone. You never know when will be the last time you will do something. You never know when will be the last time you will visit somewhere. Savor every day. Never take a minute for granted. Get off the couch and do something. You’ll never get the time back.
The Office had its series finale a few weeks ago. Are there any Office fans here? Andy Bernard said something brilliant on the final episode. He said, “I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.” Let me repeat: I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you actually left them.
Class of 2013, these ARE the good old days. EVERY day is the good old days. Don’t waste them.
My second piece of advice is this: Do Good. It’s really that simple. Do good.
Understand, doing good and doing well are not the same thing. Mother Teresa does good. Donald Trump does well.
It’s ok to want to do well. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do well. It’s the American way.
But if you want to do well, you start by doing good, by living a life of service to others. You have a responsibility, I believe, to pay forward the blessings that you were given.
Don’t take for granted the advantages you have.
- You can read, so you are luckier than over one billion people who cannot read at all.
- If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, then you are luckier than the million who will not survive this week.
- If you have never experienced war, imprisonment, torture, or starvation, then you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.
- If you can attend any meeting you want—political, religious, social–then you are luckier than 3 billion people in the world.
- If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, then you are richer than 75 percent of this world.
- If you have money in the bank and in your wallet, if you have spare change in a dish someplace, then you are among the top eight percent of the world’s wealthy.
We all have struggles, but in the big picture we are all blessed beyond belief and have tons of advantages simply because of where we were born.
Pay that forward. You don’t have to be Mother Theresa. But choose something you care about, something bigger than yourself, and give. Make the world a better place.
Ultimately, the measure of your success is not going to be measured in how much you have, but how much you gave.
Class of 2013, enjoy this evening. But remember that this is not the end, it’s the beginning. As you venture out in the world, remember to live your lives and do good things.