Recently I had the honor of giving a commencement speech at my Alma Mater, Coshocton High School. It was a great experience. I highly recommend it. Here is the speech in its entirety. Enjoy!
Graduates, Staff, Parents, Grandparents, younger siblings that don’t actually want to be here but are being forced to by parents…it’s truly an honor to be here! When Mr. Fauver called and asked me to speak today, I was stunned. My first words were, “So have all the teachers that taught me finally retired?” How did I get by the selection committee?
I say that because I remember myself as a student that struggled my first two years here. At the end of my sophomore year I had a 2.-ish grad point average and was in trouble a lot. When signing up for classes for Junior Year, I told a faculty member here that I was going to start making Honor Roll every time…and they laughed at me! That’s how much confidence I inspired as a student. I even had a teacher tell me they wished they got to vote on “most likely to turn the teacher’s hair gray” so they could vote for me. Kind of a dubious honor.
But then I realized that there was one thing in common with all of my problems at that time…and it was looking in the mirror. So I made a choice to be better. It certainly wasn’t immediate. And I continued to make mistakes. But life got better, more interesting, and more fun. And along the way I have picked up a few lessons that I want to share with you today…that I hope will help you in your next season of life.
Continue to Grow: I am NOT talking about the freshman 15! Now that you are graduating, please don’t make the mistake that so many make and think you are done learning (whether you are going on to further education or not!). Learn as much as you can about as much as you can. It not only makes LIFE more interesting (and it does) but also makes YOU more interesting. It also has the added benefit of helping you be more successful.
Be Willing to Fail: Now this has levels. If you fail at Skydiving…it’s game over. But in most things, you try, you fail, you learn, you try again. You get better. That’s how it ALWAYS works in life. But as we get older we get afraid to fail. Sometimes we think it makes us look bad or stupid. But that’s how we learn cool new things! Try, Fail, Push Yourself…Good things happen! Remember…life begins just outside of your comfort zone.
Stretch Your Perspective: Leave the zip code. I love Coshocton County. I grew up here. But there is nothing more I wanted (other than to win Wimbledon) when I was your age than to LEAVE Coshocton County. I think it’s important for us all to leave the zip code. This is a GREAT place to live and work and raise a family. But how do you know that if you have nothing to compare it too? Go. See. Explore. Gain new perspective. And if and when you decide to come back, you will do so with an expanded perspective that can help us grow and improve our community.
Side note: When you do come back, don’t insult Coshocton to those who choose to live here. If you don’t like it…that’s cool. But don’t be so narrow sighted that you lose sight that I CHOOSE to live here. If you continually say it sucks…you are saying I suck. Be smarter than that.
Don’t use the words “They” and “Deserve”. These are “vicitm’s” words. There is no group in the world that gets more blame than “they.” They should be doing this or they should do that. THEY don’t owe you anything. Say instead, “I am a part of THEY. We are starting a new group called WE…and YOU are welcome to be a part of it!” It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t wait for others to do it.
In addition, don’t use the word Deserve. You don’t deserve anything. You earn it. No one owes you a good job, a good community or a happy life. If you want it…go get it. It’s up to you. Replace the word “deserve” with earn. I think you will be happy with the results.
Push out Good…Get Good back. Want to make the world a better place? Do one good thing. This is NOT some hippie notion…it’s science. When you do something nice for someone you get a boost of Oxytocin (it’s an internal chemical that makes you feel good and actually helps you in other healthy ways). That’s great. But the person who you were nice too gets an equal boost in Oxytocin. Makes sense right? But here’s the best part. The person who just saw it happen gets an equal boost in Oxytocin. Want to make the world better? For real? Be kind.
Choose better thoughts: Here is the most controversial thing I will say today. Humans don’t create thoughts. Before you dismiss me completely out of hand let me give you an exercise. Stop thinking. Go. Remember “stop thinking” is a thought. Instead keep in mind that thoughts are coming to you all the time like the ticker tape at the bottom of the CNBC investment channel. What you DO have the power to do…is select the right thoughts. When a negative or crummy thought comes by, you have the power to say “nah.” But when a good thought comes by “I can do this” you say “yes I will take that one.”
You cannot act (long term) inconsistently with your thoughts. So if you want to have a better life, choose better thoughts.
Exercise. So often we give this up when we leave our youth. But don’t. This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon (though that’s not bad). It means you need to take care of your body. Exercise not only makes you healthier, but it decreases stress, it helps you sleep and it increases brain function. So for all you intellectuals out there who look down on athletics…don’t. Exercise actually makes you smarter. So do it…before it’s too late.
Define Yourself By Things You Love: I think there are way too many people that define themselves by the things they DON’T like. They say “I hate hip hop music” or I don’t like Liberals or I hate Kanye. Don’t just be Ant-stuff. Be Pro-Stuff. Be passionate about things you love. Be unabashedly excited about the things you are excited about. People will respond to it…and it will make your life more fun too.
Be Nice To Those You Don’t Have To Be Nice Too: You can tell the true character of a person by how they treat people they don’t have to be nice too. Most everyone is nice to their boss…or someone who can help them in some way. But if you are a jerk to the waitress…you are probably a jerk.
Tell Them About It: I have a rule in life that if I ever catch myself talking—in a good way—about someone behind their back…I tell them. When you have something nice to say to someone, let them know. You never know how much that might mean to them at the time. Send a card, email, text, Twitter or Snapchat…whatever. Let them know. You will never been disappointed by pushing out good into the world. We could use more of it.
Choose Yourself: One of the great mistakes in life, I think, is to wait for someone (anyone) to give you permission to be awesome. We go to school, follow the path and hope that someone will “give” us a job. We wait for “them” to give us an opportunity. We hope that “they” will fix the potholes, improve the economy, start a business or make the world a better place. Stop it! If you want something…anything…to be better…do it yourself. Don’t wait for a job—create one. Don’t just join a movement—start one. It’s not for me to give you permission. Choose yourself.
Final Thought in a riddle: 3 Frogs are sitting on a stump and 1 of them decides to jump off. How many Frogs are left? The answer is 3. The one that decided to jump…did not jump. It may sound trivial, but it is the difference of a life worth lived and not. Nothing really matters until you take action. If you have an idea…great. But what do you DO about it? What action do you take?
Back to the beginning…it’s all about choices. So choose to DO. Go out and make your mark on this world. Make us proud. Write your book. Start your business. Fall in love. Start a family. Get a job. Whatever. Just DO. Choose to Do.
Congratulations graduates…and good luck!