Get Off the Couch: My 2014 Commencement Address

ImageA few weeks ago I got a friend request on Facebook from the girl I took to my prom 26 years ago.

So the absolute first thing I did was what any smart man would do: I told my wife.

My wife was not threatened. She knows I could never find anyone better than her, so she gave me her blessing to accept the friend request and Michele and I spent some time reminiscing about the past and catching up.

They were good memories mostly. We met at a church retreat run by the Catholic Youth Organization. We were playing football on a break and when Michele tackled me she ripped the string off my sweatpants. Don’t get too excited…these were the 1980s, when every boy in the country wore shorts OVER his sweatpants. Anyway, she tied the string around her wrist, I thought it was cute, and we started dating.

Michele introduced me to this new band out of Ireland named U2, and I told her how they were never going to make it big.

I was convinced Michele was the girl for me. We both drove Ford Fairmonts–mine was red, hers was blue–and yes, kids, Ford Fairmonts are completely as uncool as they sound. But because we drove the same car I was sure we would be together forever.

And THEN she went off to college and met the soccer team.

Ok, that is not really fair. One day we were driving on Route 8 and saw some people pulled over tending to a dog that looked as if had just been hit by a car. Michele was a dog lover and started crying. She said “That poor dog. I wonder what it was doing on the highway?”

I said, “It looked like it was just lying there.”

And that was the beginning of the end.

Looking back now, that was a horrible joke. The truth is that I was insecure in high school and covered my insecurities with jokes and sarcasm. I had some stuff going on with my family, and I was a little overweight, and didn’t always have the highest opinion of myself.

Maybe that sounds familiar to you. We are all insecure in some way, every one of us in this auditorium. I know you in the caps and gowns have insecurities. You’re getting ready to go to college or get a job or join the military, and you aren’t quite sure what to expect. You are leaving the regimented world of school bells, which you may complain about but actually provides great comfort to you. And some of you are fighting battles none of us know about: illnesses or family problems or any number of things.

But even adults have insecurities. Am I good parent? Am I good at my job?

Even superintendents have insecurities. Don’t think so? Be a superintendent on a snowy morning. You’re watching weather forecasts, talking to police and road crews and other superintendents. And then the tweets start. Pictures of cars in ditches. You don’t care about safety! Seven teachers got in accidents and it’s your fault! You hate children!

Insecurities abound, and you wonder how you ever got to where you are in the first place.

That’s normal, guys. You are going to be nervous. You are going to be anxious. You are going to feel sometimes like you are in over your heads. But you’re not. You have greatness within you. You have talent. You have skill. You have an excellent education.

And right now, you have time!

Einstein and Edison and Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa…you all have something in common with all of these people. You all have 24 hours in a day. So while you may have some insecurities, face your fears and take a risk. Get off the couch and do something wonderful! Believe me when I say you will blink your eyes and 26 years will have passed.

I’m the youngest of 11 children. My oldest brother Dave used to tell me “If you can’t be anything else in life, you can always be a bad example.” And I used to be that bad example. When I was giving this speech just a year ago I weighed close to 300 pounds.

Encouraged by a friend who has her own insecurities, I decided it was time to make a change. I started running, and 70 pounds later I’ve run 5Ks the last two weekends, something I never dreamed would be possible for myself. Now look at me: I can fit a Broman under my gown.

I’m not telling you this because I am anything special. Far from it. But do you know what I did? At 43 years old I decided to get off the couch and do something.

Don’t wait until you are 43 years old to do something! They say that youth is wasted on the young. Don’t waste your youth. Remember that today is commencement–a beginning–and get up tomorrow morning and start doing something great!

I was running the other Sunday morning listening to iTunes. I’m not sure how iTunes knows what day of the week it is, but it seems like it knows when it is Sunday. I mean, I may be old but I’ve got some Pitbull and Jason Derulo on my playlist. But on this particular Sunday it hit me with Etta James and James Taylor and then that Sarah McLaughlin song that they play all the time this time of year: I Will Remember You.

You know the song. “I will remember you. Will you remember me? Don’t let your life pass you by. Weep not for the memories.”

Don’t let your life pass you by. Kids, 26 years ago I was sitting right where you are. I blinked and here we are. The same thing will happen to you.

Mark Twain wrote: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

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.

Many of you have already made the world a better place. You have done all sorts of great service for the community. Your classmate Catherine Bruno wanted to make the world a better place and she did it. She saw that Nordonia kids were going hungry, and along with her sister and mom she started Knights Caring for Knights, which provides our neediest students with food on the weekends. All you need is an idea and a work ethic, and you can do anything.

Ultimately, your success is not going to be measured in how much you have, but how much you gave.

As I wrap up, I would be remiss if I did not mention Maya Angelou, an American treasure who died yesterday. Maya Angelou was a writer, a speaker, an actor, a poet, a civil rights activist…she was indeed a living legend who I was fortunate to hear speak just a year ago.

Maya Angelou said that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. She reminded us that we have the ability everyday to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.

What does that mean, to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud? On one of those potential snow days this past winter, when people were lighting up my Twitter account about how I needed to cancel school (yes, I realize most of those tweets were in fun and good natured….but not all of them were), your classmate Olivia Biss sent a tweet that said something like this: Can we all take a break from complaining about the snow day and talk about how much weight Dr. Clark has lost?

That made my day. Olivia was a rainbow in my cloud that day.

Nordonia High School Class of 2014, as you go out to make your way in the world, treat people well. Everyone you come across is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Be compassionate. Enjoy this evening. But remember that this is not the end, it’s the beginning. As you venture out in the world, remember to get off the couch, live your lives, and do great things.

Class of 2014, we are proud of you! Congratulations!

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