Hang on to a Branch and Keep Doing Good: My Address to Nordonia High School Class of 2017

I am graduation-ed out.

Over the past two weeks I’ve attended three separate graduation ceremonies. My son Matthew graduated from Wadsworth High School on Sunday, where the ceremony went two hours. And my son Isaac graduated from Syracuse University the weekend before, where we attended TWO ceremonies: the business college’s convocation went almost two hours, and the commencement for the entire University went nearly three hours. In fact, it took an hour just for all the 5,000 graduates to process in.

So my goal tonight is to make you feel every bit of the pain that I felt the last two weekends. I plan to talk longer…….slower…………and be more boring than what I endured with my own kids.

I’m kidding. I know all you really want is to hear one specific name being called, and I know you’ve probably already tuned me out to play some Angry Birds or Candy Crush or check on the Cavs game on your phones.

Parents, I’m talking to you.

Mr. Broman, please put the fidget spinner away.

So I will keep it short tonight. But because my own two sons graduated this year, 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 I want to take this chance to give you the exact same advice I gave my boys as they graduated.

There are just two things I want you to keep in mind.  

Number one: as we have seen all too clearly here in Nordonia over the past year and a half, your life is the most precious gift you have ever been given.

So, live.

Don’t treat your life like you did those countless presents 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, dances, spirit week, Broman…

I remember my own high school days. Our girls softball team won the state championship my senior year, we would hang out at Parasson’s after Friday night football games, and my buddies and I would always try to prank each other when we were going on dates.

For example, one time my friend Marc was taking a girl to the movies in his dad’s new cream colored Volvo. While Marc and his date were watching the movie, my friends and searched the parking lot, found the car which he had foolishly left unlocked, and filled it with beach balls, sprinkled it with raisins, and covered it with seven or eight plungers.

Now they were new plungers…we didn’t want to be gross. But toilet plungers are usually made of black rubber, and these can leave dark stains on the sides of whatever you are plunging. Even plungers made from brown rubber — which are designed for plunging sinks–can do this.

And you now know more about plungers than my friends and I did.

So when Marc pulled the plungers off the car to find they left a bunch of black rings on a new Volvo, Marc’s dad wasn’t happy. Nor was my dad happy when Marc’s dad called him and told him what I was a part of.

That night seems like yesterday to me, but it was 30 years ago. Thirty years! And all I can do now is think back to those good old days wishing I could live them over.

One of my favorite TV shows was The Office. Andy Bernard said something brilliant in 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.” Class of 2017, these ARE the good old days. EVERY day is the good old days. Don’t waste them.

You never know when is last time you will see someone. You never know when is the last time you will do something. You never know when is the last time you will visit somewhere. Savor each day. Never take a minute for granted. Put the phones down and do something. You’ll never get the time back.

My second piece of advice also is really simple: Do good.

Understand, doing good and doing well are not the same thing. Mother Teresa did good. Warren Buffet 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. 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 in the world who can’t.
  • If you woke up this morning healthy, 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’re richer than 75 percent of the world.

We all have struggles, but in the big picture we all are 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.

Of course you have already started to do that. I am so proud to report that this graduating class has done more than 13,000 hours of community service to make Nordonia a better place.

Now understand, people who try to make the world a better place often are the targets of attacks and ridicule. To paraphrase Albert from that classic American film A Million Ways to Die in the West, there is always a guy in the crowd who wants to make fun of the hero’s shirt.

I’m the youngest of eleven kids. I have six older brothers. When I was young, my brothers used to make me climb to the top of the tallest tree in our yard, and then they would throw baseballs at me.

I know that may sound abusive, but it actually prepared me for being a superintendent more than any college class ever did!

“Why didn’t we have a snow day??” Wham!

“My bus was late!!” Skiddoosh!!

“LEVY??????” Kablammo!!!

Doing good can sometimes feel like that, like you’re at the top of a tree being pelted with baseballs. But when that happens, what you need to do is just hang on to a branch and keep doing good. What is that branch for you to hang onto? It’s your family. It’s your friends. It’s your faith. It’s your commitment to doing what is right.

boy_in_a_tree_by_photo_phanSpeaking of Mother Theresa…this is what she wrote.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered; Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

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

Nordonia High School class of 2017, 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. Congratulations!


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