Sunday, June 04, 2006

My Message to Graduating High School Seniors

Commencement Address

Good afternoon graduates, family members, staff and guests. I am truly honored to address you, the graduating class of 2006. On behalf of my fellow Board members President Deb Roberts, Geri Rinschler, Michael Fenberg, Lori Soifer, Shelli Weisberg, and Dr. David Garrett; we wish to congratulate all of you on your achievement. Parents, I salute you on having survived the process of molding outstanding young adults (along with having survived the discovery of unidentified molds lurking deep in the backpacks of those aforementioned adults).

This ceremony marks the completion of your high school requirements. It is the district’s way of saying: "You've passed the test;" or rather a seemingly endless array of tests from Finals, AP’s, MEAP’S, and College Boards. You may feel like you’ve been tested more than Ken Jennings on Jeopardy, and in some ways that’s true – it’s just without the 2 ½ million dollars he won.

Our district’s mission statement says that we strive to develop “knowledgeable, caring, adaptable, lifelong learners who will use their skills to influence positively a diverse and rapidly changing world.” Let me boil that down – if we’ve kept true to our mission, we believe you will be thoughtful leaders that will make the world a better place. I offer you some observations and ideas that may serve you well in that endeavor. This is not a how to speech or a road map – but just some ideas I hope you can use as the road unfolds before you.

Number One: Write down your goals
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to establish goals and write them down. I learned the power of this after I finished college and oh how I wish I’d have learned this as a freshman. Now, I re-write my goals every five years or so. You may not achieve all of your goals, but that's okay. As advertising executive Leo Burnett once said, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud, either.”

Number Two: Learn to live in the gray

Today, there is rarely a yes or no answer for every situation. Choices aren’t always black and white. Life is complicated and you must look at situations from multiple viewpoints. Learn to accept that and try to be comfortable in the gray areas. Know that you need to make progress, in spite of the uncertainty. Recognize that much of life is lived in the gray, and those who learn to manage and live in this space will be the happiest.

Number Three: Follow your passion

Some of you may have a clear idea about what you want to do in life, others – maybe not so clear. Don't worry -- sometimes it takes some trial and error to find your true calling. You may switch majors or jobs as you find your way. Just keep moving in the direction of things you like to do most. If you are passionate about what you’re doing, there is a good chance you will be successful at it.

Number Four: Maintain balance in your life
This piece of advice is easy to give, but often hard to follow. All of you want to be successful. But it’s important that you find time to relax, to enjoy relationships and activities outside class and work. Now, parents, for those with college bound students, maybe you think the message should cut the other way – make sure to get to class and stop spending so much time relaxing for crying out loud! I think we can all agree finding that balance is crucial because unless one of you unlocks the secret of immortality - your time on this planet is finite. And so are the lives of those around you. Make time to do things that are important to you -- whether they relate to your studies, your career, your friends, your family, your faith, or your service to the community. Define your life not by what you are, but by who you are.

Number Five: Give something back

Today's commencement signifies your passage into the next stage of citizenship in the fullest sense. With that passage comes a new sense of responsibility -- to your family, the community, the nation and the planet. I encourage you to accept that responsibility and give something back. How you choose to do it is up to you. I see that people can give in three ways -- through their time, their treasure or their talent.

I have found that giving back makes me feel good about who I am, and grateful for what I have been given. I choose to give back to this community because of this district’s importance to my children’s education, and to the education of students like you. During my time on the board I have come to appreciate the deep connection among Birmingham students past, present and future. This is a labor of love. You may gain the same sense of gratification in giving back to community organizations. Or, you may discover other ways in which to give back. There is certainly no shortage of need in the world today. What's important is that you find the connection that's right for you.

In conclusion, let me again offer my sincere congratulations to you, the graduating class of 2006. This school has given you the intellectual equipment to make informed choices. Be strong in your convictions and have faith in the choices you make. Don't stop learning, and share what you learn with others.

I am confident that each of you, in your own way, will become thoughtful leaders who will make the world a better place.

Thank you.

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