I was lucky enough to be asked to deliver the commencement address for Ashland High School. A few friends have asked to read it, so here it is.
Thank you so much to the senior steering committee for asking me to speak. It is a great honor and I don’t take it lightly. I have had the pleasure of working with many of you this year, and I can tell you, you are a bright, wonderful class and each and every one of you has earned your place here today.
I thought I would limit myself to 3 talking points today, because you have, like 1,245 valedictorians, so we need to move the ceremony along a bit. Today, I want to talk to you about humanity over technology, deferring to kindness and pursuing your passion. Lots of area to cover, so let’s get started.
You lucky people live in an amazing age. In the past 20 years, we have seen such amazing technological advances, that they have actually redefined what we consider to be intelligence. Redefined intelligence. Seriously. 30 years ago, intelligence was quite often tied to a good memory. The smartest person in the room was the one who remembered how to find the square root, or remembered who won last year’s Oscar for best film or remembered the names of the constellations in the night sky. However, your phone has made that skill obsolete. Think about it, you can fit the entire encyclopedia Britannica in your pocket. Today, perceived intelligence is now closer to creative problem solving and has little or nothing to do with memory. Technology has changed the way we perceive intelligence, and that’s kind of a game changer. Your smart phones are amazing and awesome tools. Just make sure they don’t replace the people in your life. Make sure you don’t spend more time online that you do with real people. Make sure that when you are having dinner with your folks, you look into their eyes more than at that screen. Also, there are some things that should never be texted…like break ups, first “I love yous” and marriage proposals…oh, and important apologies – all those things should be done face to face. Make sure that your smart phone doesn’t become your best friend. That would just be sad, and weird.
Onto my 2nd point, which involves kindness. Of course it makes sense to be kind, and you should do it. But there are some times in your life when it will be hard to do it, but you should do it anyway. I hate to break it to you, but there will be moments in your life, and I am so, so sorry to have to tell you this, when you will be in a room with someone who doesn’t like you all. This person may want to diminish you, or punish you, maybe want to get you fired or for you to lose all dignity. The normal human reaction in this situation is to lash back – to get angry and to say awful things right back to this clearly, unhappy, sad person. However, trust me, I know from experience, that decisions made in anger usually only end up hurting you in the end. The older I get, the more I can see the truth in this. So, what to do when someone is being an absolute jerk about 3 inches from your face? Defer to kindness. When you find yourself in those situations, I hereby challenge you to be the best person in the room. I challenge you to find the courage to be kind. I challenge you to take a breath, hold your tongue and try very hard to find the dignity in yourself and all others in that room. It will be hard, that is certain, but if you can do this, if you can be the best human being you can for those brief minutes, your tomorrow will be better for it. When you don’t know what to say, or what to do, defer to kindness. I’m not saying roll over and let people walk all over you, but I am telling you, you can be better than the jerk sitting across from you.
OK – wrapping up, because it’s humid and those metal chairs are uncomfortable. To conclude my address, I want to talk about 2 former students who graduated from Ashland High and they couldn’t be more different. For the record, they both know I am doing this, and I have their blessing to share their stories with you. One was a young woman who studied hard, was very attentive in class, and she got straight A’s while being involved in extracurriculars. Her name was Andrea. The other was a young man who didn’t really like school; he often skipped his morning classes and when he didn’t, he would frequently sleep in class. The only area he did well in was band. He barely graduated. His name was Ethan.
Andrea went on to college; she majored in history and ended up getting graduate degrees, and even ended up being a professor of History at a college in Minnesota. She was happy. And while Andrea was happy, she realized that there was more. She had always loved to write, and one day, she allowed herself to follow her passion. She wrote a book. It was a wonderful success and in fact, it was a New York Times best seller. She has since written over 6 books and has stopped teaching altogether to follow her passion of being an author. If you haven’t guessed at this point, Andrea Cremer Robertson is her name. She followed her passion and she is currently very, very happy.
After high school, Ethan played music. He got a band together and they hit the road, and even though it was tough work, he stuck with it, because he loved it. He pursued his passion. He never gave up. See, the reason Ethan slept in class was because he was up all night, making beats, or recording music in his basement. He pursued his passion early and it paid off. Currently, he lives in Berkley California and Ethan Parsonage, a.k.a. Headnodic, is one of the more successful and sought out producers in the area. He has recorded a solo album that was well received. He followed his passion and he is very, very happy.
So, what’s the take away? You can get there from here. Both of these individuals received roughly the same education you did, regardless of G.P.A. What did they do? They followed their passion, and I cannot stress the importance of this. Don’t worry about the money, because when you do what you love the money will come. When you do what you love, you have no choice but to do it well, and therefore, you will excel at it. Trust me. You can get there from here. Just do what you love with passion.
So, to wrap up, humanity over technology, defer to kindness, and follow your passion and you will be just fine. Congratulations class of 2014, go do great things.