June 09, 2006

Go the Distance!

One thing I've always wanted to do was to give the charge to the class at graduation. If I was asked to speak, I think this is what I'd say.

Congratulations to the class of 2006! You've successfully survived 12 long years of education. For some of you, this has been a wonderfully happy time of discovery and growth. For others, this has been a challenging time of adversity and change. For all of you sitting here tonight, I hope your school experience has been a worthwhile introduction into the great unknown we adults like to call, "life." On behalf of my fellow educators, let me say thank you for the opportunities to be your teachers, administrators, coaches, confidants, motivators, disciplinarians, and most importantly, friends.

We’ve all seen the famous Kevin Costner film of the W.P. Kinsella story where the voice from above tells the corn farmer to “go the distance.” Understandably the corn farmer is perplexed. He is forced to make some decisions. First, he has to define what the “distance” is. Next, he needs to take a first step in a direction that will lead him towards the “distance.” Finally, he has to commit to “go” this “distance” no matter how difficult or frustrating the journey may become.

Like the corn farmer, you are being commanded to “go the distance.” Now it’s your turn to make some decisions. What will your personal “distance” be, and in what direction will you go? Will you take the first step? And will you follow through and “go” all the way to your destination?

Tomorrow, (or the maybe the next day), when you wake up after having graduated high school you’ll step out into a brand new opportunity to live your life and exercise your most recent, and most important achievement so far in your life: high school graduation. What does it mean to be a high school graduate? Well, it means that, to this point, you’ve gone the distance!


But the distance doesn’t stop with the end of high school. In fact, it’s only the beginning. From this night on and for the rest of your life each one of you will define your “distance” in your own unique and personal way. For some, the “distance” will be attending and graduating college. For others, the “distance” will include going to work and exploring a career. At some point your “distance” might include marriage, and parenting a child, or many children.

The best survival tool I know is holding on to a good attitude. It all comes down to attitude. In your life you can’t change most of the things that affect you. You can’t change your parents. You can’t change where you grow up. You can’t change your grades (not now anyway). What you can change is your attitude. Attitude is one of the few things you can control in life.

Of course, some of you have learned the value of a positive attitude. We all know that nobody likes the high school bell schedule and how it controls us hour-to-hour, day-to-day. It’s frustrating at best. As a student, you can either fight against the bell schedule, and consistently show up late for class, or follow the bell schedule and avoid the terrors of detention, or the dangers of ditching. You don’t have to like the bell schedule, but if you keep a positive attitude about the benefits of six consistent periods of study a day, you’ll have a better high school experience… maybe.

By the way, I don’t know if you know this or not, but you will never again have to follow the high school bell schedule.


Unless of course you end up like one of the many alumni that return to here to become teachers.

Some of these people will tell you, “its not the destination but the journey that’s important.” I’d like to suggest that both are vitally important to your life. You may be afraid to take a first step out into the world. That’s totally normal. Here’s a tip: it’s always easier to take a step after you’ve chosen a direction. Life is full of choices, including making no choice at all. If you want to be successful, if you want to “go the distance,” you must make the choice to do so. The next choice must be a direction.

Does that direction matter? Not really. It could be college, or military service, or going to work. But you must make a decision, and take a step in the direction that will take you the distance to your goal. Along the way you may change course, many, many times, and that’s OK. I tell my students, you must first make up your mind before you can change your mind. No matter what you decide, you’ll need a way of surviving the path you take to reach your distance.

In order for the corn farmer to “go the distance” when the voice spoke to him he needed first to take a first step. That’s a scary proposal! Take a step to move forward without any idea of which direction to go. Sound familiar? Don’t worry, stepping forward into the unknown is a common experience we all share. Look at the people on this stage. Each and every one of them has been where you are now. Some of them even sat where you are sitting at their own graduation. Of course, that was back when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.


But each and every one of these people took a first step into the unknown so that they too could “go the distance,” a distance that has brought them to where they are today: right back here at graduation.

Where did these scholars get the courage to take a first step? The answer is as unique as each individual. For me, it was my faith that gave me courage to continue. My belief that life was about more than just a bell schedule, or a diploma, or about doing what I thought my parents wanted me to do. I now take comfort in knowing that I am part of something bigger than myself, and that no matter how badly I may slip up, that there is Grace to save me. You too will find the courage to take the steps necessary to go your distance.

You may be asking, “How far is the distance I will travel?” And, “When will I arrive?” I don’t have those answers for you. No one does. The corn farmer thought he had realized his “dream” when the ball players magically appeared to play baseball on his field in the middle of his corn farm. But that wasn’t the end. There was still a distance to travel. Ultimately the corn farmer would join a youthful representation of his father in a game of catch. That’s where the movie ended, but the story, and the corn farmer’s journey, continued on.

The corn farmer stumbled upon his life’s purpose while he traveled his journey to “go the distance.” You too were created for a purpose. Tonight you fulfill part of that purpose by graduating high school. Some of you have already realized the purpose for your life, others are still searching, wondering, dreaming about what your may one day achieve.

Recently on television Taylor Hicks was voted the 2006 American Idol. What I appreciate most about Taylor Hicks is the reckless abandon that he brings to singing and performance. No one (especially Simon Cowell) would have guessed that a gray-haired white Ray Charles fan would be the next idol, but every time Taylor performed on stage he did so with such genuine joy and enthusiasm that he became contagious. Taylor has realized his life’s purpose and is celebrating his victory. I want to encourage you tonight to continue to seek out and ultimately realize your life’s purpose, and celebrate your own victory just like Taylor Hicks.

Once you’ve realized your life’s purpose you may think that you have arrived at your destination. But much like tonight, or the corn farmer playing catch with his Dad, it will simply be another lesson on your journey as you continue to “go the distance.” The collection of lessons you will learn on your journey will be like discovering gold nuggets that you will invest in your future. You won’t always know how you’ll use these lessons, but as you continue to “go the distance,” be prepared to use them all.

I can tell you with complete certainty that every moment of my life, every lesson that I have learned, every experience that I have had has prepared me for this moment, right here, right now.

But this moment does not belong to me; it belongs to you, the class of 2006. Make no mistake about it, all the experiences in your life have prepared you for what you will do here tonight in this place. Regardless of how you started out, tonight you prove that you can indeed “go the distance.” Well done Class of 2006.

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