Friday, June 7, 2019
My commencement speech draws raves
I’ve been nervous before other important talks, mostly because I had brought along a lot of books and was hoping for a sell out.
Last night at the Adelphoi Ketterer Charter School, I was concerned about an entirely different kind of sell out.
I was worried about selling out the future!
You’re forgiven if the inherent audacity of that last sentence has confused you into thinking last night’s topic was titled “Excessive Ego in Under-achieving Authors.”
No, I was the commencement speaker for 42 members of the Adelphoi Class of 2019. More than 200 people in attendance.
I took this opportunity very seriously. Truly, I was honored by the invitation to take such a high profile role before these honest achievers.
Understand, Adelphoi isn’t your typical high school. The building next to the one where I was speaking is surrounded by a security fence topped with concertina wire. To graduate last night, many of these students had to overcome addiction, abuse, abandonment, multiple court proceedings and the kind of life challenges candy asses like me and other public school grads can only imagine.
And it was my job to inspire them?
Hell, they inspire me.
I wish you could have heard the student bios filled with muted adulation conveyed to teachers and loved ones who shepherded them through so many often-horrific challenges to get to that stage.
We’ve spent the last three days justifiably honoring our surviving D-Day heroes, but I’m convinced the world is full of good-hearted heroes, ones who’ll never be acknowledged.
Can you sense I’m feeling emotional?
Last night I took for me the unusual step of scripting my remarks (below). I might do that more often because the reaction told me it was a home run. An upper decker (video to come).
“That was the best commencement address we’ve had in the 15 years I’ve been coming here,” one board member told me.
Most gratifying were the parents and students who sought me out at the reception to praise me. They said it was funny, poignant, inspirational, etc.
Where they right?
See for yourself ….
—— << >> ——-
The longest commencement address in history lasted six hours. It was first read in Latin then repeated in Greek. Mine is going to take 6 minutes and you can quit listening in 30 seconds because that’s all the longer it’s going to take me to give you the only advice you’ll ever need to be succeed in life.
Ready? Here goes …
“Try and do something each and every day to ensure parking at your funeral will be a real pain in the butt.”
That’s it. For as complicated as life is, a truly successful one can be deceptively simple.
It’s possible for each of you to live a life that’ll lead to funereal traffic jams, TV news helicopters and scores of loved ones complaining they had to park a mile away. But they were willing to do that because you mattered.
You can achieve this in ways that have nothing to do with power, money or fame. Being ruthless or cutthroat won’t help
What will? Being kind. Being cheerful. Being persistent. And when times are toughest being all three at once.
Be a happy example of a decent human being and all the very best people on the planet will be drawn to you. They’ll invite you to swanky parties, fix you up with classy dates, and bring you soup when you’re sick.
How do you become that person? Here’s the best part: You do it by enjoying your life.
Be daring: Try to do at least one thing each week that will blow your hair back and allow you to scream, “Wheeeeeeee!!!”
Be opportunistic: The pessimist complains about all the times they’ve been thrown under the bus. The optimist thinks one day he’ll make a really swell bus mechanic.
Be silly: Open an art gallery with nothing on the walls. Then invite people to enter and be greeted by forty guys who say nothing but, “Hi, I’m Art!”
Be determined: You’re going to be challenged with hard times. Follow Winston Churchill’s advice: “When you’re going through Hell, go faster.”
Does anyone see what I’m asking you to become? It should be obvious.
I’m asking you to become … Happy!
It’s the correct answer to the wrong question every adult asks every kid: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Take it from me; What do you want to be when you grow up?
You want to be happy. Adults tend to forget that.
We fail ourselves every time we equate success or wealth with happiness. One has nothing to do with the other.
Robert Louis Stevenson knew. He is the author of “Treasure Island” and “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” two monumental books that have withstood the test of time.
But to me the best thing he’s ever written isn’t a book. It’s a single sentence.
“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”
Words to live by.
I recently received an unfortunate diagnosis. I have Parkinson’s Disease. Can’t die from it, but it can diminish my quality of life. The diagnosis left me feeling angry and scared. But then a prevailing emotion emerged: I became thankful.
Not for what’s to come, but for all that’s already happened. I can’t believe just how lucky I’ve been.
What’s funny is how nothing in my life worked out the way I was sure it would when I was in your position.
I have no prestige. No influence. No monuments. No savings.
So why am I so happy? I knew early on I wouldn’t need those things.
If I were to die tomorrow, all I’d have are the warm memories of a lifetime of happiness and gratitude for being the recipient of so much genuine love.
Now here at the conclusion is the time when other, more esteemed commencement speakers are telling graduates, “You only live once!”
It’s bullcrap. In fact, you’ll only die once. You’re graced with the option to live every single day.
So may you live — truly live — for as long as you’re alive.
And may parking at your funeral one day many, many years from now be for your many friends and loved ones a huge pain in the butt.
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