Last spring, I was privileged to give the Commencement Speech at the Grace Webb School in Hartford, Connecticut. I was stunned when I was conferred an honorary degree. I want to share this little talk I gave with you, because it really goes way beyond last year’s senior graduating class. Read it and you will see what I mean. This is an extraordinary school. I have been blessed to be invited to participate deeply with all the students. What can I say? They just flat out are the best.
My congratulations, especially to the parents, grandparents, families, and friends who have worked so hard to prepare this graduating class. Congratulations most of all to you, the students of the Class of 2001 at the Grace Webb School - a most special high school. As the students and staff know, it's my all-time favorite school in the USA.
All of you students have worked hard to make this happen. This is your day and your honor, and you deserve every bit of it.
Before you graduate, before you leave this community, I want to ask you to come back again and visit this noble institution. This may be the last thing you want to hear as you begin your great adventure into life, but it is the first thing I want you to remember. Come back to this school, your counselors, teachers, your community and friends - stay in touch with all of us.
I know all of you are ready to graduate.
Words of Wisdom
Last month when we sat together, I took notes about what you found most remarkable about your educational journey at this school. I want to share some of your words of wisdom. To me, they exemplify the core of what is so unique about your high school. Your words made me proud to have a small part in each of your lives.
I call this the educational counsel, perspective, and wisdom of Jeff, Justin, Edwin, Jessica, Jennifer, and Holly.
“Here you have the opportunity to change.”
“I may not have listened to everything, but I eventually got it.”
“In life, a lot of people don’t make it, but we did.”
“A school can be prestigious and not good, and a school can be prestigious and be great. The Webb school is great.”
“People believe in you here.”
“You never are put down.”
“I had my father behind me.”
“There is a real family atmosphere here.”
“There is not a person I would not bend over backwards to help in a jam.”
“In the world people say, ‘Don’t do it.’ Here the philosophy is, ‘Let me do it so I can learn.‘”
“You learn here what makes people decent.”
Truly, these are deep statements. Someone should post them on the walls in the hallways of the school and underneath simply say - THE GRADUATING CLASS OF 2001.
True Education and Life Adventures
True education expands beyond book learning. The easy part of education is learning and memorizing, the hard part is the education of the whole person. What carries us in life is who we are in our heart and how we respond and treat others. Your summary of your education at Grace Webb represents the highest and best of who we are as people. If you carry those values onward into your life, you will be rich in the real goodness of life. You will, wherever you go, leave your mark on the hearts of others. Nothing is more noble than that.
No doubt from your words you have shaped and been shaped in deep and lasting ways by choosing to attend this school. I want you to remember and look around at this assemblage, the Webb School. You are leaving now, off to your life adventures. And, yes, do not think that we all do not know that leaving is also hard, even at times, stressful. But a good leaving is difficult and if you think about it, why is this so?
It is so because all of you, the students, the faculty, the administrators, the parents have created a true educational community of caring. Be thankful for that and come back to it. Be a beacon when you return to other students, who after you are fortunate enough to pass through these doors. Comeback also to renew your spirit and energy.
Your next task is waiting for you out the door. It will require you to take risks. But remember big risks are all about chasing your dreams in life. One thing you learned here for sure, is that it is okay to risk your comfort and security to discover something more about yourself and about your life.
You are now taking a new step to shape your new life. How will you do that? Who will you become? Whom will you shape and whom will shape you? My recommendation is just to start. Take your hand on your life, jump in, and take a risk. You know how much more there is to each problem and each solution in your life.
Let me challenge you a little bit and encourage you to move on beyond the basic everyday thinking about life. That, as you know, is the foundation here of your school. What I am asking is for you to take the Webb school way of thinking with you the rest of your life. Remember, in life, it always not enough to ignore evil, it also requires wherever you are to do good.
In life, it is important to understand, heal, and transform the causes of despair, loneliness and sadness. All of you are so schooled in this, please do not turn into an adult who forgets the most important principles you have learned here in high school about life.
Every graduation speech challenges graduates to go for your dreams. For those of you who know me, and certainly you, the students and staff, know me pretty well, I want to instead challenge your spirit. I know that as long as you stay in touch with your Inner Spirit that has been fine tuned in this high school, you will find dreams everywhere you go in life.
Real happiness is found in fearless dedication to your heart and caring for yourself and others. If the rest of the world was schooled as you are in this discipline - so much would be possible. So let me challenge you to remember some important things of Spirit on the day of your graduation.
Some little Yehudah Aphorisms That Keep Life In Real Focus On troubles, remember that, “It shall come to pass, not it shall come to stay.”
On challenges, remember that, “Things happen. It’s what we do when they happen that’s key.”
On going after your dreams, remember that, “It’s not the size of the step that matters, but that you take it.”
On not wasting your life, remember that, “To dream of the person we would like to be is to waste the person we are.”
On always being smart, remember that, “Never eat soup with a fork.”
On keeping your self-esteem, remember that, “Self-esteem demands that I make the least of my unlucky circumstances and the most of my ability to overcome them.”
On your talents, remember that, “The talents you have are God’s gift to you. What you do with those talents is your gift to God.”
On tough issues in life, like resentment, remember that, “Resentments are like stray dogs. If you don’t pet them, they will go away.”
On change in your future, remember that, “No pain, no change.”
And, of course, my big three aphorisms that I told you the first time we met, more than two years ago: Never say, “Why me?” Always say, “Why not me?” Never say, “Why is this happening to me?” Always say, “Why is this happening for me?” Never say, “What do I want out of life? ” Always say, “What does life want from me?”
You know many of the secrets of having a fulfilling life by completing high school here. Remember this place is your treasure chest that you take with you. The world does not yet know all your secrets, but you do - so take them with you and share them with those you can.
A Little Story
Let me tell you a story about the challenges and what it means to dare to dream. I think this story is definitely part of the philosophy of your education here.
Two people are sitting by a river. To their great surprise, they notice a helpless baby floating by. They rescue the child and, to their horror, right away another baby soon comes floating down the stream. When that child is pulled to safety, another baby comes along. And suddenly, as one of them dives in the river a third time, the other rushes upstream.
“Come back,” yells the one in the water. “We’ve got to save this baby.”
“You save it,” the other yells back. “I’m going to find out who is throwing babies in the river and make them stop.”
Today, too many want to ignore the babies in the water and hardly anyone wants to stop them from being thrown in the deep forever. Your education here definitely included lifesaving and prevention. It was all about going up to the source of things and the source of problems. Education is not a quick fix, it is about transforming life.
I feel confident that you are strong in the belief to look for source answers and solutions and will take that with you in your life. It is those source answers that change life forever.
Graduation Is A Good Story
It brings up an important question: Who will write the story of your life? Graduation is a good time to think about this. Is there a certain kind of life you want to have? Can you even dream what kind of story you want to tell your grandchildren about your life?
What do you want to say to yourself and others when all is said and done about your life? Who will you become? What will be the differences you make for other people and the world around you? Your experiences here allow you the freedom to learn from anyone anywhere.
And finally, I want to encourage you never to be a person who lacks the courage or vision it takes to write your own stories and to dream your own story. Be strong in ways that really matter. Don’t be tough in the ways that don’t matter. Never prefer living in a place where choices are limited and where others determine what the outcome is going to be of your life story. Remember, stories are built up over time, little by little. They take their shape more from little decisions than from big events.
Changes mean choices and it is through our choices that our lives unfold. I hope you will choose well. But I do know that you already know what it takes to do so. All of you know that in order to find your course in life you have to listen to the messages in your heart. Not your emotions, but your true heart. Your heart where you have learned to take risks and make decisions.
Each one of you has inside of you a voice of wisdom and compassion, a true voice of courage. Let it guide the unfolding story of your life. In some ways, your education is just the beginning. You are leaving the world of the Webb School and entering the world of adulthood. Take yourself and who you are seriously. But always add in a dash of foolishness, fun, and joy in your life.
One of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlan, once made the following statements to a group of graduates. I added some of my thought to her words.
“Get a life.”
“Get a real life, not a manic pursuit for the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house.”
“Do you think you’d care very much about those things if you woke up tomorrow morning and had a cancer diagnosis or found a friend who had OD’d or gotten shot the night before?”
“Get a life in which you have time to smell the leaves on a fall morning.”
“Get a life in which you can stop and watch a red tail hawk circling up in the sky.”
“Get a life when you can wake up and say not, ‘Good God it’s morning,’ but, ‘Good morning, God.‘”
“Get a life so you are not alone.”
“Get a life where you find people that you love and who love you.”
And finally, please remember always to pick up the phone, send e-mail, write letters, hug those you love, and care so deeply about the goodness of your life that you want to spread it around.
You learned all these things at the Webb School. Take that part of you and bring that into the world with you.
God bless you and congratulations on your graduation.