I graduated from Worthington High School in 1991. I tell people that I was an average student in high school but statistically that’s not accurate. When you graduate in the bottom half of your high school class like I did, technically that’s below average. (In my mind I was above average and I was also faster, could jump higher, and had much cooler hair than may be accurate. But memory is a funny thing as you age….) The point is as a student I never dreamed of the opportunity to speak at graduation.
That’s what made today special As a graduate of Worthington Schools the opportunity to speak to the students graduating from Worthington Schools was an incredible honor. I was humbled to have the unique opportunity.
As I thought about what I wanted to say to the graduates I watched several current graduation speeches. That’s not a good strategy. Trying to live up to John Green and Sheryl Sandberg’s recent graduation speeches was a lost cause. Then I thought maybe I should just give Steve Jobs’ famous 2005 Stanford commencement speech. These students were seven when it was given and maybe they’d never know. That idea soon passed as well.
So, my speech was simple. My hope was to convey that the people you grow-up with are always with you in your memory. That’s really unique, but so true, and I also wanted to prepare our students in a small way for inevitable adversity that we all face in life. I’m not sure I accomplished either but I count the opportunity to try as a unique professional opportunity.
In Worthington we hold two formal graduations, one for Worthington Kilbourne High School, and one for Thomas Worthington High School. I gave essentially the same speech twice only changing out the names of the elementary schools that feed the high school.
Here’s what I said:
“Congratulations! Today is a BIG day! Graduates, Parents, Grandparents, Today is your day! Graduates, to be sitting here this afternoon you’ve satisfied the requirements set forth by the State of Ohio and the Worthington Board of Education. You’ve earned the right to be here this afternoon. Today is a day of celebration but also a day of transition. Today you move from one phase of your life and on to another.
Graduates as you look to your right and to your left you see your classmates. Many of these same classmates began school with you at Bluffsview, Brookside, Granby, Liberty or Worthington Hills. When I grew-up, I grew-up living next door to Craig Schindler. Craig and I were in class together at Worthington Hills, we shared birthdays in the month of April and we spent many hours together as kids. Craig could build or fix anything. I remember one day he took the family lawn mower apart and built a go cart that we rode up and down Ashler Court. Craig had also built a tree fort in the woods near our house. The fort was our own hiding place and on that fort Craig had built a wood box where we could store the things we didn’t want our mom’s to know about. Craig and I grew up together but we only spoken several times since the time of our high school graduation 25 years ago. See, that’s the thing, the people you’re sitting with today some will remain life-long friends. Others you will move on from, but your memories of those you grew-up with will remain strong. As you look to your right and to your left again you’ll never forget the people you’re sitting with and your time in Worthington will always remain vivid in your memory. By the way…I believe Craig Schindler is here today as his son Caleb is graduating in this class! Congratulations Caleb. As I’m sure you know your dad could build and/or fix anything.
As you move on from Worthington you will be provided many opportunities. The world is waiting for you and you have been well prepared by this school district and this community to compete in the global workforce. There will be no shortage of opportunity for you but, it will be up to you on whether you seize that opportunity. The last 13 years of formal education have prepared you for your future. But, they guarantee you nothing. From this day forward you’ll need to earn your way. You will go on to great success of that I have no doubt. You will graduate from universities, start businesses, do important research, you will indeed change the world. But what I want you to know is that while I truly believe all of those things will happen, it will be much more difficult than you currently believe. Nothing is as easy as it looks. No one succeeds overnight. In life the only thing we can really count on….is that there’s bound to come some trouble on this earth. At some point, at some time, for everyone in this room, life is going to reach up and kick you in the teeth. I wish what I was telling you was not true. But it is. Graduates, your life will be more difficult than you believe. Your friends lives will be much more difficult than they look on their Instagram feeds. What will define your success in life is not your IQ, not your high school or college grade point average, not even the career path you ultimately choose. What will separate those who succeed from others, is how you respond when things are difficult. And, they will be difficult.
So my challenge to you is this: Go out and make your mark on the world! Strive for greatness! Take a risk! Live your life! Constantly adapt and embrace the inevitable change. But understand that you’ll have to work harder for success than you currently believe is possible and when life does get hard….Don’t quit. Keep moving forward. Left foot, right foot. Your persistence in the face of challenges will ultimately define your success. As Winston Churchill famously said, Never give in, never give in, never, never, never never! Hollywood producer Aaron Sorkin said “The world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.”
And know this…we in Worthington will be here to support you. We will be here watching and after you have found your great success I’d ask that you remember Worthington. It’s important to give back to the community that has given so much to you.
Graduates today you join the over 40,000 living alumni of Worthington Schools. Welcome to our club!
I’ll leave you with this: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, and even dangerous, but leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.