My Commencement Speech to the class of 2012 at Ballard High School
(only to be given in the quiet of my room here at the end of the hall)
Thanks for the invitation to be here. Today is about you and what you have done and what you may choose to become tomorrow.
Today is about the limitless possibilities that await you.
Today is about reflecting on the remarkable path you have taken to get to this spot and beginning to chart a path for who you will become.
Personally, I’m not here to speak with you from some level of exalted achievement. My life has been my own. I am proud of it. I am disappointed by it. I am on occasion profoundly confused by it. But it is mine and because it is mine I must claim responsibility for it, as you will your own.
You and I, we, are just travelers. Neither famous nor infamous. We share in our humanity. I talk while you listen simply because I have been traveling a bit longer down our shared road.
Cosmic Fly Shit (CFS).
We are all just a spec of cosmic fly shit. Our time here, incredibly important as it to us, is but a limited moment. The scale of our personal existence is one of the traps in this life.
Many of us dream of burning like a Super Nova. Some of us dare to dream that our very existance will forever alter the course of human direction. I get it.
The need to make a real difference is absolutely essential to our journey through life.
Jesus. Ghandi. Dr. King.
Hitler. Manson. Dr. Evil.
Fame and infamy. Good and bad. We think of these names and their actions and we think that if we do not rise to their level of notoriety we have somehow failed. We have underperformed expectations.
There is no escape from that.
Greatness must begin with a big dream.
But greatness is not diminished when viewed on a smaller scale. There is no more important CFS than that of being a good friend, becoming a good parent, performing essential tasks within our community that may be no grander than picking up our pets very own CFS that they distribute through the neighborhood.
Understanding our place in the world and striving to make a big difference is valuable. But at the end of the day, contribution to the on-going line, even on the most minute of scale, proves us worthy.
Don’t self limit.
So while I want you to accept and embrace the idea of your value on any size scale … I hope you will attack this larger life that we all secretly dream of without self-limitation.
You are CFS.
You aren’t Jesus.
That leaves plenty of room for personal growth.
I have no idea what you can be. You have no idea what you can be.
But you won’t be anything if you lower your sights, lessen your expectations, constrict the size of your dreams.
Plenty of people throughout your life will tell you about making the prudent choice, the safe choice, the right choice. But you are CFS. You don’t have to do what is prudent at every turn. In fact, you will be miserably unhappy if you are forever doing only what is right, SAFE, expected.
We all understand how hard it is to get through the teenage years. It’s really the first prolonged exposure that we have to labeling. Geek, freak, athlete, fashionista, Whatever. Labeling simply makes it easy for others to view us one-dimensionally and then on only the most surface of measurements.
I remember graduating from high school and thinking ‘Thank God that crap is over. Now no one will ever make me feel so badly about myself again’.
Except people will make you feel badly about yourself time and again (if you let them). In college. At work. In adult social circumstances. For whatever reasons, the human condition produces stereotypes and labels that can dog us throughout our CFS existence.
Which is why you must develop a tin ear to both your fans and to your critics. What others say and think about you is wholly irrelevant to your ability to find happiness. The only person who determines your fate, your path, your ultimate success or failure is you. Even better, you have the power to redefine yourself an infinite number of times until you find a place that makes you happy inside and out.
Trust your gifts.
Only you know your gifts. Because often times you keep them hidden. Or don’t respect their importance. Or maybe at this point in your journey haven’t fully discovered your gifting.
Some gifts are obvious. Athleticism. Appearance. Intelligence. We all wish we were those things. But, as in my case, those are not my particular strong suits.
For me, it’s my ability to get up after I get knocked down. It’s my ability to forget yesterday’s results and move forward to embrace today’s possibility. It’s my strong sense of self even when it appears that I have screwed things up so magnificently that only the most kindhearted optimist believes that I can get it back on path.
My gifts are resiliency. Self-determination. Will. Find yours and trust in them, particularly when times are truly tough.
Play the game the right way.
Win or lose, on the mountaintop or in the deepest valley, as my old friend Blair Gilbert was want to say … play the game the right way.
Be honest. Be fair. Be diligent. Don’t trumpet your success in the face of others failure. Understand that we are in fact all in this together. You don’t own your neighbors problems. But do not take pleasure in others pain. I guarantee you this.
True success. True happiness. Neither come by taking shortcuts.
You have a moral compass. Never let it loose.
And that little scrap of paper that you put in your wallet to remind you of what you hold most dear. Scribble on the back of it “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. “
That Golden Rule remains as relevant today as it did 2,000 years ago and as it will be 2,000 years from now.
Own your own monkeys.
Try as we might. We will fail. We will have bad moments. We will disappoint ourselves, and those around us.
That’s simply the human condition.
The difference between those of us who aspire to be good CFS and those of us who don’t is often as simple as that we positive rays of light take ownership of our failings.
We learn from our mistakes.
We make fewer excuses for our own shortcomings.
We swing on our monkey bars and we beat our chests and we scratch our butts and we move forward past our mistakes.
Because we choose to own them. And what we own, we take mastery of. And when we master our failures, we begin to achieve greater success.
Why must everything be so serious?
Because while everything is important, it isn’t always serious. If one of your shortcomings is vanity … and it certainly is one of mine … a glance in the mirror reminds me that laughter is the best defense.
Every frigging thing cannot matter to the degree that many of us allow. After all, we are simply CFS.
I am often am reminded by my employer that everyone within our company watches me (judging me) and that my actions define in some significant way our larger company culture.
He’s right. And that in itself is funny. Because like it or not (and I don’t), I am flawed.
My gifting does not include an ability to choose exactly the right word at exactly the right moment at precisely the right time.
My gifting does not make me level headed, cold blooded or emotionally controlled.
In fact, those are some of my monkeys. I own them. I work diligently at mastering them. But they do not define me.
When those monkeys beat me. And sadly they do. I share a CFS laugh with God. For perspective and for balance, for relief and for humility, I let go of the pain with a smile.
Laugh. Out loud. Often. And most importantly at your self.
CFS fear and failure.
Here’s the ugliest truth.
We all fail.
And as in the case of the immortalized baseball player, we fail more often then we succeed.
The challenge for us all is in finding the strength to overcome our failures.
To trust in yourself after your limitations have been exposed.
To shrug off others perceptions based on public shortfalls.
When we give into our fears we limit our destiny.
Fear must be transformed into fire.
We must find inspiration from within the pile of humility that failure serves.
No one gets through this life without experiencing setbacks.
Fearing them only keeps you from moving ahead.
Slow isn’t always the wrong speed.
Which suggests that there will be times in life when you will want to race forward as quickly as your legs will take you while at other times you will want to slow step into an uncomfortable situation.
Societal pressure says to go fast. Your own body clock typically wants to press forward. But don’t be embarrassed to downshift on occasion.
First in doesn’t always equate to first out.
Look around. In this room today you see your best friends who also happen to be your competition. Some will succeed. Some will not.
I can assure you it has nothing to do with who was ‘cool’ in high school or who made the highest grades at BHS or even who has the most friends on Facebook.
Here’s the secret to predicting the ‘winners’.
It’s the people in this room who will establish their own personal scoreboard. Those who will set personal goals, monitor their progress, have the will to make difficult choices and even harder course corrections when their plan strays or becomes less meaningful.
You control the scoreboard.
You determine its relevance.
But without the scoreboard, without a clear set of goals, you will have simply be buffeted about by whatever wind blows and your path will become less of a journey and more of an unintended consequence of a series of disconnected actions.
This is your time. Have a plan to make the most of it, because it is wholly unproven whether you will ever get another chance to be CFS again.
When it all gets too ugly. Dig in.
Your girl friend ditched you. Get up.
Your parent failed you. Get up.
Your plans eluded you. Get up.
Your God seemingly forsook you. Get up.
There is only one path. It is forward. Get up.
When it hurts. When your faith is shaken. When you think you have nothing less to give. GET UP. GET UP. GET UP.
You are only defeated when you fail to rise.
You are only lost when you fail to respond.
You are powerful beyond your wildest imagination. GET UP. GET UP. GET UP.
Don’t waste your love on things that you will discard and don’t discard the things you love.
It’s easy to get distracted by the material.
In fact, the material often becomes our scoreboard.
I’m not suggesting that things don’t bring you happiness.
I am saying that the value of the people in your life will over time far exceed the value of the things that you have acquired.
There is nothing wrong with having a long list of desired objects.
But when the desire to acquire objects overtakes your focus on serving first the people that you love, it is time to make a dramatic course correction.
Even a Ferrari loses its luster.
If you can buy it … you can discard it.
But if you must earn it … its value is inestimable.
Accept God’s grace.
We do not know God’s plan. For many of us, our intellect makes it hard to have faith in that we do not see, touch or hear.
But we must collectively believe that we together are put on this planet for a purpose. Achieving that purpose, whatever it is, requires a faith in the unknown and the unknowable.
We are bound together under one God. We are CFS. But together our CFS has implication far beyond what we can comprehend. We are gifted. We are resolute. We have the power to banish fear, to overcome failure, to accomplish our goals while enabling our self-awareness to create laughter.
We have these skills because of God’s grace. And we acknowledge it, as we acknowledge the rise of the sun on each successive day.
So I ask you this one last question.
And we all rise as a group. Bound together though individually bound.
And I say unto you all “What’s next Ballard High School?”
I love you Robert. I love you Ryan. Your possibilities are endless.