Life is a long journey, and you don’t get where you are alone.
“He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple to get there.”
– Comment on a supposedly self-made man
A word I spoke to a recent group of high school senior scholars:
Let me be clear.
None of us are where we are due to our solo efforts.
Many folks have sacrificed for you and me to reach the specific point of our life journey.
It’s easy for seniors to have senioritis. It is a condition that is common and often is most seen in a know-it-all attitude that sets in at age eighteen.
Let me be frank with you. You don’t know it all.
You never will.
Your school years are only the beginning of your life journey.
In the coming years, many of those you presently consider as stupid will become wise in your eyes.
During my years at school as a principal, I’d always listen to a certain song by the great poet Alice Cooper. It’d remind me of the mindset of what the typical eighteen year old senior is thinking and like:
I got a Baby’s brain and an old man’s heart
Took eighteen years to get this far
Don’t always know what I’m talkin’ about
Feels like I’m livin’ in the middle of doubt
I get confused every day
I just don’t know what to say
I gotta get away
I’m in the middle without any plans
I’m a boy and I’m a man
And I don’t know what I want
I just don’t know what I want
I gotta get away
I gotta get out of this place
I’ll go runnin’ in outer space
And as you stop tonight on this journey to mark that you’ve reached the milestone not only of graduating from high school, you’ve done it with honors, I want to remind you that you didn’t get her alone.
Aristotle was once asked how he had such a wide pool of knowledge. Speaking of his mentor, Plato, he said, “It’s simply because I stand on tall shoulders.”
That is an apt example of where you stand tonight.
You are standing on tall shoulders.
Remember: you didn’t get here on your own.
Or by yourselves.
There is no such animal as the self-made man (or woman) or high school graduate.
First of all, those tall shoulders begin with your parents.
You are here literally, due to them.
They brought you into this world and have nurtured you to this point.
Now, I know enough that not all of you have perfect parents.
Many of you come from family situations that are less than ideal.
But you still owe a debt of gratitude to your parents.
And this includes your extended family. In Beauregard Parish, we cherish our kin. Our clan. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, even sisters and brothers. They’ve all played a part in your reaching this special night.
Find multiple ways in the coming weeks to say thanks.
Write a personal note. Go to WalMart or Ideal Drug and buy a packet of simple thank you notes. Buy some stamps and write a pile of short sincere notes of gratitude.
While you’re thinking about those tall shoulders, don’t forget your teachers. From Preschool to your senior year, they’ve guided, taught, and mentored you. Some are more special to you, but all deserve a hearty thanks.
There are others in your school who’ve been tall shoulders. They’re called principals, counselors, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. Each has been part of your school experience.
I work part-time for Roy O Martin Timber Company as a chaplain. I work in two plywood mills in the Alexandria area. It’s a fascinating and rewarding job as I put on my safety gear and walk through the mills being available to over two thousands workers for counsel and a listening ear.
Recently, I was entering the mill when a work stopped me. His name is Wayne and he’s flourished in his job as a master electrician for the mill. He’s also one of my former students at East Beauregard and probably is making much more money than I ever made as a teacher or principal.
Wayne stopped me on the sidewalk, took out and said, “Mr. Iles, I want to thank you. I’d never be here today without you as my principal.”
He then gave me a manly hug, and I’m not ashamed to say I cried. I thought back to how Mr. Spears, Mr. Cooley, and a whole host of teachers had guided him, disciplined him, encouraged him, and even went to pick him up for school when his car wouldn’t start and his absentee days were mounting.
I’ve always laughed that there are some students a faculty should actually carry across the graduation stage due to our prodding. Maybe Wayne was one of those.
During that plywood mill hug, there were also tears in Wayne’s eyes, and I was reminded that it was worth it all.
I believe Wayne was reminding me, and maybe himself, that he didn’t get where he is alone.
In addition to family and your school family, all of you have had folks in your community and churches who led you along your journey. Don’t forget them.
So there are two things I want you to take from this night:
1. Remember where you came from.
2. Remember you didn’t get where you are/here by yourself. Carry a sense of gratitude for the family, guides, and mentors in your life.