Thursday, May 25, 2006

Commencement Speech

Ten years ago today, I had the joy and privilege of graduating from high school on my 18th birthday. It was a special event, complete with my class of 250+ students singing "Happy Birthday" to me when I got up to make my Salutatorian address. I recently came across this copy of my speech, which I thought I'd share.

The neatest part about the whole experience was that I got away with it. I was part of the first graduating class of a 5-A government high school, and I think things were still a little new to everyone. I did have someone "screen" my speech, and how in the world it was allowed to fly is beyond me. But no one other than my "screener", not even my parents, had read or heard my speech until I actually delivered it. I followed a speech made by Senator Judith Zaffarini, all about how critical it is to "look out for number one" if you want to succeed in life. You'd have thought we'd compared notes and were trying to debate one another. After reading the following, you'll see why I was so pleased to have the last word. There were several thousand in attendance that night, and you could've heard a pin drop.

Commencement Speech

Good evening. First of all, I want to congratulate Alexander's first graduates, the mighty Bulldog Class of '96!

Before I begin, I want to give the guests in the stands a bit of background of what this class has been through. Two years ago, none of the se graduates you see here tonight had even seen what the halls or classrooms at Alexander looked like. We had no idea what was in store for us as upperclassmen! All we knew was that we were about to be uprooted, forced to leave everything we knew---and start over. The traditions, routines, and friendships we had grown so familiar with began to change, and became things of the past. On top of that, we were given the responsibility of setting an example for all the classes after us; it was up to us to define the kind of school Alexander was going to be.

And that's exactly what we did. Organizations that didn't have sponsors, constitutions, or funding are now in full swing. Athletes that weren't even considered competition by the rest of the district have surpassed everyone's expectations and proven the critics wrong. They've established a great sense of pride in a very short time. And that's not to mention the tremendous accomplishments of the drill team, cheerleaders, UIL team, and many more!

True, we've made some mistakes along the way, and there are gaps to be filled in. We didn't have a full four years to do everything we had dreamed of. That's why it's up to the rest of the students, beginning with the class of '97, to contribute a little bit each year to improving Alexander High. We've established a base for you to build on; now it's your turn to pick up where we left off!

Tonight I'd like to share my perspective on a topic you're all familiar with: success. Proverbs 6:3 in the Bible says "In everything you do, put God first, and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success." But the world tries to gain success differently; it is commonly measured in terms of wealth, appearance, social status, and ambition. So why is it that those who have all these things usually don't feel that they've found true happiness? Because they haven't. What they've mistaken for joy is just temporary satisfaction; the things their lives revolve around are conditional and can be taken away as quickly as they were received.

Similar to the way people have a false perception of success, they also mislabel leadership. Leadership is often associated with being "Number One"--having control, being in charge of people and things around you. I used to think of leadership this way, too; it was something I constantly strived for without realizing it.

During my junior year, I ended up being vice-president of the National Honor Society, vice-president of Student Council, and ranked number two in my class! None of this bothered me until I began feeling as though I couldn't be number one at anything I did, no matter how hard I tried. People even teased me about the saying that "second place is the first loser".

But guess what, guys: as true as that saying may be on the football field, in academics, or even in the workforce--it just doesn't apply to the game of life. In reality, there will always be someone ahead of you, no matter what. And even though being in second place can be frustrating, I found it to be good practice for my future; it made me realize that God is in control of my life, and that will never change. He will always be in first place, and that's exactly where I want Him!

And then it became clear to me what a true leader is. if you have the humility to let someone else be in control of things, and the grace to accept it and cooperate, you have the mark of a leader. If you're able to put your complete effort into something, knowing you'll never be recognized for it, you have the mark of a leader. If you spend more time concerned about the needs of those around you than for your own needs, you have the mark of a leader.

As a noted American author once said, "The real leader has no need to lead---he is content to merely point the way."

As I stand before you tonight, I may appear a success and a leader. But I can't take credit for any aspect of my life. All I can do is give thanks. As I take one final look around this field and stadium, four years of memories come flooding into my mind. I also see the people that made these memories possible. I've been blessed with loving parents that have always guided me with encouragement. I have a family who loves and supports me. I have caring friends like my best friend Sarah, that have been there for me through thick and thin. God has given me talents and abilities that I've tried to use to His glory. And because of all these things, I have success.

No, the true secret to success is not money, fame, or prestige. And the key to being a leader is not shoving your way to the top! Success in life can only be found through the Giver of Life, Jesus Christ---and to follow Him is the most righteous thing anyone can do.

You may not all agree with what I've said tonight, and I respect that. But maybe somewhere down the line--when everything I've said is forgotten--you'll at least remember that I voiced my opinion on what matters to me the most. Maybe you'll even be encouraged to do the same and stand firm on what you believe, no matter what the cost. Then, and only then, will you have found true success.

Thank you.

Hee, hee, hee. Can you just imagine the horrified looks on the faces of the district administrators, not to mention the Senator? Anyone else think that speech "screener" may have been replaced after that night?


Texas Confederate said...

Wow! That was a brilliant speech.

Stephanie said...

Thanks, Barry!

Anonymous said...

I completely forgot how great your speech was that night so thanks for sharing. It is so neat to reflect and remember those pivotal events in our life such as our high school graduation and compare them to where we are now! What a difference we have truly made.
Fondest Regards to you Always~
Sarah Tomlinson (the "Sarah" mentioned in the speech - heehee)