Saturday, June 8, 2013

Commencement Address 2013

Thank you, Caroline, for that kind introduction. 
I’d like to take a brief moment to welcome everybody,
to this auspicious occasion celebrating the Canterbury Class of 2013. 

To the graduates: 
I’ve been in your seats many more times than I have been up here, 
and I have to tell you - where you are is looking pretty good right now. 
But since you so graciously asked me 
to deliver a meaningful and personal message to you, 
I will try my best. 
I must say you have not made this easy on me. 

When Mr. Jones told me you all had selected me as the graduation speaker, 
I knew right away who I needed to sit down with 
to begin to outline my thoughts - Fr. Finnin. 

You guys did such a great job on your sermons this year, 
I thought who better to help me with mine. 
He began by offering fashion advice such as a new European-cut suit with tight pants, 
or perhaps a handlebar mustache to really bring attention to the message. 

Did he do this with you guys? No? Just me? Huh. Weird.

Well, I declined and tried to get down to the business at hand: 
what would I say? 
We quickly settled into a back and forth of topics - 
I would offer ideas and he would deny them. For example,

“What about the theme of looking back and remembering your time?”

“No, Caroline Moore already did it.”

“OK. How about overcoming your fears?”

“No. Klug’s been there, done that.”

“Alright....finding one’s own path in life.”

“Nope. Bill (pause) and Bill (pause) and Bill Osteen discussed that.”

“Man! (exasperated) I know! My grandma and her outlook on life.”

“Been done three, maybe four times this year.”

I was beginning to get frustrated, as you can imagine. 
Your theology class had taken my ideas. 
So I had to figure something out.  
As many of you know, my son Cauley suffered from seizures 
and was in the hospital for all but one week of his short life. 
During our time in the hospital, 
I would ask myself the same questions you all asked yourselves as you wrote your sermons:

What do I believe? 
Why do I believe it?  
and How do I show it?

Then, I would find myself seated at an 8th grade sermon 
and you would shed some light on the answers for me. 
Your class gave me the strength to move forward. 

There were three ideas that were particularly helpful.  
They are themes that have proved valuable to me, 
and whether you know it or not,
I think they’re lessons you are well on the way to learning yourselves.  

First, you have to learn to embrace the beauty of mistakes. 
Be open to the possibility that what feels like a mistake now, given time, may turn into something beautiful. 

It is important to learn from mistakes. 
I think we all know this to be true. 
Or if you didn’t know this to be true,
you do now, after having to complete Skill 10 for your portfolio.

Many of you commented during your presentations 
that this was the toughest skill for you to complete,
which came as a surprise to the panel.
I mean, the skill seemed to makes sense on the surface, on paper. 
So why is actually DOING IT is so hard?  
I think one reason, 
is that we often believe that one mistake is the end of the game,
an instant failure, or a card that reads
"Go to Jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200."

But the reality is, it is none of those things, 
or at least it doesn’t have to be.
A mistake, or a struggle, is an opportunity,
but you can’t take advantage of that opportunity
if you’re constantly living in fear of messing up. 
The first thing you have to do, is be willing to make mistakes.

Let me tell you a story: 

In the early 20th century, 
most people made soda at home,
by combining soda water and sugar flavoring. 
They used stick, kind of like a coffee stirrer, 
to keep the flavoring evenly distributed. 

One night, an 11 year old boy, Frank Epperson, 
made a mistake and left his soda and stir stick outside. 
That night, the temperature dropped to below freezing. 
And when he woke up, 
he found his soda had frozen around a stick. 
He removed it from the glass, 
turned it upside down, 
and he had a frozen soda on a stick. 
And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. 
In fact, he really liked it. 

That mistake stuck with him. 
In fact, it stuck with him to the point that 18 years later, 
in 1923, he applied for a patent for “frozen ice on a stick” 
and called his new invention the Epsicle ice pop. 
His children later renamed it,
and we now know it as the popsicle. 
Out of one mistake an American tradition was born. 

If Frank had not found the beauty in his mistake, 
our lives would be a little duller, or at least our summers would feel hotter. So when you make mistakes, and trust me, you will,
I hope you remember that good can come out of them. 

Our natural tendency is to run away from our mistakes,
but doing so gives failure the last word.
If we are willing to wrestle with failure,
whether they be yours, 
or just things life has dealt you, 
if we are willing to ask questions like
“What good can come out of them? 
or “Who can you help by learning from them? 
it is possible to cultivate the beauty in mistakes. 

Your mistakes may not lead to the Popsicle, 
but there’s no reason they can’t serve you and others well. 

So, I say again, when mistakes come
embrace them,
roll them around in your mind, making sure to understand the circumstances you can change and those you can’t. 
Don’t get caught up in the “what-ifs”, or the “if-only’s”,
Instead, explore the beauty that may be hidden within. 
And use your energy to develop that potential with everything you’ve got. 

And, don’t make the same mistake twice - 
unless, of course, you’ve invented the next Popsicle. 
Then by all means make it over and over again -  
patent it, and when you sell it off to Good Humor, 
as Frank Epperson did, 
send a big donation our way. 

The second thing I was reminded of by your sermons,
is that our “story” is always changing,
and  so we must know who we are.
We must know how our lives impact others.
We must know our story.

But it’s not enough to simply know our own stories.
We must also learn each other’s stories.
We must learn about the things that make us similar,
and we must learn about the things that make us different.
We must respect the uniqueness of each person’s story.
Throughout your time at Canterbury 
your stories have been woven together. 
You understand each other, 
you’ve learned what makes each other tick. 
You have welcomed classmates in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, 
and they are now as much a part of the story of this class 
as those who came in Kindergarten. 

Most of you seem to already have a good sense of who you are, 
and how you work,
which  allows you to give the best of yourself to each other. 
Use this strength at the next level. 
Don’t just meet new people,
get to know new people.
The people you meet in high school will have their own stories. 
Listen to them.
Learn from them.
And share your own story.
It will make life richer.

I wish I could say the third lesson I saw in your sermons 
was clearer and easier to accomplish.
I could, but I’d be lying.

The third theme is finishing what you start,
which is a difficult lesson for anybody.
You guys should be particularly proud of your ability to do this. 
This is a class that was in seven TMAC Championships while at 
Canterbury, produced four major musicals, 
organized three school wide service initiatives, 
and completed one big Portfolio Project. 

You have shown us all 
that you are capable of finishing what you start,
and finishing strong.
I have no doubt that you can continue that in future.

But as you do, remember this:
Finishing what you start 
is only impressive if you start something worthwhile.

So Dream big. 
We’ve already established that you’re going to fail from time to time,
so you may as well fail while chasing big goals.
Go outside your comfort zone.
Challenge yourself to try new things,
and to grow in new ways.

Look for opportunities to impact others 
not just in big ways,
but through the small gestures of every day life.

As someone who has recently been on the receiving end 
of these kind of gestures,
I can tell you it means the world to people. 

So commit yourself to others,
to the people, and places, and communities around you,
secure in the knowledge that you already have what it takes 
to follow through on what you start,
and fulfilled by the fact that you are living out a motto that I hope has become a part of your very being:
we learn, we love, we serve, we live.

So, Class of 2013, as you leave us and this chapter in your story closes, don’t forget what was written here, and know that we are all excited to see the rest of your story unfold. Congratulations. 

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