Last week I had the honor of being the commencement speaker at a local high school graduation. I had a great time and the students were fantastic.  Below is the draft of my speech.

When Dr. Laird asked that I speak to you on this exciting day, I was both honored and confused.  Honored to have a small role in this milestone event in your young lives.  Confused by what I could offer you on this day. 

I could tell you about myself, but really that story is only interesting to me and my parents.  So we will skip most of that.  The only thing about me that is pertinent today is that I am AN old (by your definition) former principal that has had success in both my life and career beyond anything I ever imagined when I was sitting at my high school graduation. 

So as we celebrate, what I consider to be the last day of your childhood, I want to share with you some guidelines for adulthood that I wish someone had shared with me.

Now I have graduated 3 times and I have to be honest I don’t remember one thing about any of the commencement speakers, much less the content of their speeches. Nada. Zilch.  And of course I blame them. They didn’t understand their audience.  I won’t make their mistake.  See, you don’t know me, you are not my students, and as of now you are not even in school.  You are, at least until the beginning of the Fall Semester, adults in the workforce.  So I don’t want to talk to you, I want to hire you for about the next 15 minutes. 

(Hand out note taking templates)

What you have just received is a note taking template and your pay for engaging in this task.  I going to talk, you’ll take some notes and then you will get to talk. 

Parents, family and friends, you can join us, but sadly you will have to serve the role of unpaid intern.  But I’m sure the experience will be reward enough.


Let’s start with this, if in ten years you look back and think that your experience as a high school student is the highlight of your life, then everyone in this room has failed. Everything to this point has been to prepare you to be kicked out to where the action is, to climb to ever-greater heights, accomplishments and experiences. This has been the training wheels segment of your life. Now is the time to kick the training wheels off.

So write this down, if you ever hear yourself saying something along the lines of, “Back when I was in High School, those were the good times…” stop and instead say, “After I graduated from High School, then it really got good.”

So how do you make that happen?

First know this.  Hard work trumps everything.  Hard work trumps IQ. Hard work trumps connections. Hard work trumps luck. If it is work worth doing, do it hard at full speed.  Adult life is a tournament.  The harder you work, the longer you stick with it, the further you will go.  Slow down, coast or quit, and I guarantee that you will get passed by someone not quite as good who is still moving and breaking a sweat.

So let’s have a quick 30-second conversation with your neighbors.  What are you going to do this summer to get a jump on all the graduates from the other high schools in Texas who don’t know about the power of hard work?

Second, I want you to THINK… Think a lot and think deeply.  Think about what you are working hard on.  How can you do it better, more efficiently, more effectively? How does it connect with other things?  This is where you add to your value, make yourself more marketable and increase your competitive advantage in the tournament that is life and career.  Sweat and reflection is an almost unbeatable combination.

Now I have shared that hard work and deep thinking is key to success in the tournament of adult life.  But that success has to have context, which brings me to my next point. Third, you must have a generous heart.  Yes, life is a tournament, but those who are the happiest, those that create a legacy, they compete to make things better for others.  If you are playing just for you, that is a miserable existence and you will become a miserable person. Give time, give money, and give yourself.  You will be richer because of it and it will add meaning to your hard work and deep thinking.

Time for one more quick talk with your neighbors.  Do you agree with what I have shared so far? Why or why not?

Finally, vote.  Vote a lot. Vote in every election.  Vote so much that you regret some of the votes you make.  In this last primary only 4% of eligible voters voted.  Our community, our state and our country are stronger when hard working, thinking, generous people vote. Those in politics will only be responsive to the needs of you and yours, if you participate.  No matter what anyone wants you to believe, you are ready. Participate.

I ask you to follow your passion and follow the four practices I have shared with you. Work Hard. Think Deeply. Have a Generous Heart. Vote. Do these things and you can’t help make everyone in this room proud.

Graduates of 2014, thank you again for allowing me to share in this first, but not to be the last, of your major life accomplishments.  Good luck and God bless.

Think. Work. Achieve. Your turn…

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