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A Message to the Class of 2016…a bacalaureate

This is an address that I delivered to the Class of 2016, Dunlap High School, Dunlap, Illinois

Members of the class of 2016, over 40 ago that I sat where you sit, only mine was in a hot gymnasium and I don’t remember who the speaker was let alone anything that he said that night. This reality humbles me. So, it is with a certain amount of fear and trembling that I stand before you tonight wondering if anything that I may will share with you will not only be memorable, but more importantly, helpful.
Over the years I have collected and shared bits of wisdom that I shared with my daughters and others. Tonight I will share with you random thoughts on how to get the most out of life as you stand on the brink the your life’s next chapter.
First, I believe that God breaks into our lives when we least expect it and often in the most surprising and inopportune ways. All of the great faiths of the world have some variation of this foundational teaching:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Over half of the problems of the world would disappear if we would just take this
one elemental teaching to heart.

And this one, from my own tradition:
What does it profit a man (or a woman) to gain the whole world and lose their soul.
Do not confuse your career with your life.
Your career is how you make money.
Your life is is what you invest in others.

Make sure that as you climb the ladder of success that at the end of your life
it was leaning against the right wall.

Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift.
That is why it is called the Present.

And speaking of Tomorrow,
Tomorrow,
Today will be a memory.
Make it a good one.
Learn the life lessons of the turtle. They are three.
The only way that a turtle gets anywhere is by sticking its neck out;
The turtle defeated the hare because is moved deliberately and steadily;
If you see a turtle on a fence post you can be sure of two things—
it didn’t get there by itself
and it doesn’t belong there.
None of us are self-made so don’t fall for that lie.
You did not choose your parents.
We did not choose the color of our skin,
the place of our birth,
or our DNA.
We are the products of generations that went before us.

Each one of you is unique.
In the history of humanity there has never been anyone else exactly like you.
No one else has ever had your thoughts,
or your experiences.
You are one of a kind.
You have a contribution to our story that only you can make.

Live so that when others think of fairness or kindness
they will think of you.

Be a man or woman of Character;
don’t be a Character.

Ask yourself who you are when no is looking.

Contribute more than you cost.

Take advantage of your opportunities
but do not be opportunistic.

Don’t throw sand in the sandbox.
You know what that means.

Never lick a steak knife…or any knife for that matter, but especially not a steak knife.

You can’t change others; you can only change yourself.
Trying to change others is an exercise in futility.
But, if you change yourself then everyone around you will react differently
because you are different.

Get our of your comfort zone every now and then.

No one cares if you can dance.
No one.
So, If someone asks you to dance,
dance.
And as far as that goes,
ask someone else to dance.

The tongue is like a lit flame:
it can light a darkened room
or burn a forest.

The most destructive thing in the world is gossip.
Don’t do it.
Ever.

Measure everything that you say or write by these four principles:
Is it true.
Is it helpful.
Does it need to be said.
Does it build up or tear down.
Sticks and stones may not break bones
but words will hurt.
Words are like toothpaste,
once said they can never be put back in the tube.

Laugh at yourself
and never laugh at others.

Success is a choice.
so is failure.
Choose the former.

Whether you can or can’t
you’re right.

Eliminate “can’t” from you vocabulary.
Replace it with,
“I haven’t done that yet.”

Don’t confuse fame with success.

It is not the strong that survive
but the adaptable.
The dinosaurs were strong.
We are adaptable.
But then, so it the cockroach.
Don’t be a cockroach.
If you don’t like change,
you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

When elephants fight
the grass gets trampled.

You can’t like everyone
but you can treat everyone with the respect and dignity befitting a child of God.

Don’t put your happiness up for sale.

You’re never wrong to the right thing.

It takes years to build trust
but only a second to destroy it.

Storms make trees grow deeper roots.

I’ll close by paraphrasing Lukas Graham, as he got it just about right.
Once you were seven years old, and you mama told you,
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely.
Soon you’ll be sixty years old,
and will you think the world is cold
Or will you have a lot of people to warm you?

None of us know what the future holds but deep in our hearts we know in Whose hands the future is held. It is the hope, wish and prayers of everyone gathered here this evening, sitting behind you, that God’s richest blessings will be yours.

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