Thank you, this is obviously a tremendous honor to address the Graduating Class of 2016 here at Monroe. While I am certainly excited about giving this speech today, what I am most excited about is that tonight I will finally get some sleep. I cannot tell you how many times I have laid in bed reciting this speech, turning it over in my mind, changing words, trying to get it right. Finally, I came to the conclusion, if I would have worked this hard in preparing for Grace Christian, maybe we would have scored more than two points in the entire 4th quarter! How do you score a total of 2 points in a quarter?
About five years ago I was asked to give the graduation speech in Chevak, a village in Western Alaska. As I often do when faced with a unique challenge, I asked Mrs. Hanson for some advice. I remember sitting down upstairs in Mrs. Hanson’s office as I have done a hundred times and she looked at me and said something I will never forget. She said, “Remember, nobody is coming to the graduation to hear you speak. Keep it short.” I thought that was great advice and I will try to adhere to that today. However, if you know me at all, you know that will be a challenge.
I want to start by telling you how envious I am of each of you.
I am envious, because today you will become lifelong members of the greatest community I have ever known – The Catholic Schools of Fairbanks Community. For the rest of your life, when you achieve some level of success, you will not only hear the applause from your classmates, but from the thousands of other members of this community who have come before you and will come after you, cheering as they celebrate and share in your triumph. And when you face tragedy – and you will face tragedy - you will never face it alone. You will feel the arms of every person in this great community wrap around you and lift you, giving you the necessary strength, courage and hope, to get up off the ground and put one foot in front of the other and move forward with your life.
Most kids graduate and spend their whole lives searching for something to belong to, something to be a part of, and if they are lucky, they will find a few people who care about them…However, not you. You will have that times a thousand. For the rest of your life, wherever you go, you will never have to search, because you will always be able to depend on this community, through the good times and the bad.
So when I tell you I am envious, believe me, I mean it with all my heart.
For the last eight years I have sat out in the crowd just as you are doing today and listened as someone in my shoes has come to this podium and given a great speech and dispensed with exceptional wisdom and advice. I have decided to take a different approach for two primary reasons. First, as the class of 2016 will tell you, I am not exceptionally wise and secondly as their parents will tell you, at their age, they already think they know everything and pretty much have all the answers, so advice would be wasted. So, instead of Wisdom and Advice, I have decided today to Challenge the class of 2016.
Your first challenge is for you to always seek out excellence. Wherever and whenever you find it, admire it and appreciate it for its beauty and for the extraordinary effort that went into creating it. Understand, excellence doesn’t just happen, it takes thousands of hours along with blood, sweat and most likely tears, to create. When you find it, study it and learn from it. Apply the efforts necessary to create such excellence, to your life, and in doing so, I am confident you will find a measure of success in your own careers. I have no doubt you will recognize excellence when you see it, because you have been witness to it each day in the lectures of Mr. Riggs, the smile and chocolate chip cookies of Mrs. Wallace, the determination and dedication of Mrs. Hanson. You have witnessed it in the teachers, administration and your classmates, everyday, here, within these schools.
Your second challenge is to be tough. In my 45 years of life I have been led to one absolute and unequivocal truth – life is not fair. If life were fair, let’s be honest, I would be much better looking. (Where’s my wife? Yep, there she is agreeing. It took 21 years but she’s finally agreeing with something I said). When things go wrong - and they will go wrong – do not whine, do not complain, do not be a sniveling clod of ailments, be tough. When something goes wrong that you have no control over, lean on your faith. When something goes wrong that you do control, when you make a mistake, when you fail, look into the mirror, accept responsibility for your failure, be accountable and find a solution. Improvise, Adapt, Overcome – Find a way. Understand, your lot in life, the house you live in, the car you drive, the spouse you marry and the success or failure of your children is in your hands, no one else. Do not blame others, do not make excuses and for goodness sake, never give up. I am confident each of you possesses the toughness necessary to not simply survive, but thrive, because toughness has been demanded of you in the classrooms, the fields, the court, the track, the trail, on the pitch, the diamond, wherever it is you have chosen to compete and represent these great schools.
Your third challenge is to be kind. This may sound simple, but I am going to make this challenge harder. I challenge you to be kind to those who are not necessarily kind to you. When you are faced with insolence, rudeness, arrogance and disrespect, and out right jerkiness, I challenge you to respond with a smile and a kind word. I once heard it said, “What reward, what joy, is there in only loving those who love you?” I cannot say it any better than that. I have no doubt you will move on with kindness in your heart, because kindness has been taught and expected of you every single day in the halls and classrooms of these great schools.
Your fourth challenge is to be a person of service. To go forth and wherever you should choose to settle down, call home and raise a family, make it a better place by giving of your time, your energy and your God given talents. Coach a team, read to a class or volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Find a way to get involved. And when the time comes to write a check, do so, willingly, but understand that while that money may be necessary and those receiving it may be very grateful, writing that check should never take the place of the giving of your time, your energy and talent. I have no doubt that each of you will move on and become tremendous soldiers of service, because service has become an expectation of you through your yearly RAMS Day, the service projects and countless service hours required of you here in these great schools.
Your final challenge is to be grateful, to understand the value of saying thank you. When the celebration of this day has died down, when the relatives have gone home and the house has been cleaned, to find who ever is responsible for your being afforded the best education our community has to offer, whether it is your mom and dad, grandma or grandpa, aunt or uncle, Mrs. Hanson, whoever it is and look them in the eye, wrap your arms around them, tell them you love them and say thank you. Thank them for the incredible sacrifice they have made so you could live, love, laugh, learn and pray, here in these great schools.
And then, go forth, Open to Growth, Committed to Doing Justice, Committed to Learning something new every day, committed to your faith and to loving those around you. Go forth as a Soldier of Service, with Kindness and Gratitude in your heart, and the necessary toughness to remain undeterred, in your life’s search for excellence.
Those will be the expectations demanded of each of you. A task most would find daunting, but a challenge you will find simple, because today you become Monroe Catholic High School Graduates and life long members of this extraordinary community – The Catholic Schools of Fairbanks. And that means, there is NOTHING you cannot do.
Yes, I am so envious of each of you.
To the Class of 2016, may God bless and protect each and every one of you on your life’s journey. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your special day. Congratulations.