New beginnings. I always think about new beginnings at graduation ceremonies.
I remember back to a hot August day. You know, the kind where you hear the bugs screaming before 9AM and you realize that you are going to be wishing for both shade and cold water all day. Once I walk down the ramp to the lower level door and get past the dark weight room and through another door I am greeted by a soon to be familiar smell. The scene is that of an old locker room. I mean 1980’s old. I am 14 years old, reporting to the coaches office before the first day of double sessions for high school football start, and a mixture of uncertainty, confidence, nervousness, and an all around feeling of here I am, but am I sure this is where I want to be.
Does that last part sound a little familiar to any of you?
Whether anyone was actually watching as I went into the coaches office is irrelevant because I could feel them. I knew they were watching. Then I met him; Coach. I continued to wonder how anyone could look so stern yet at the same time a little welcoming and supportive as he talked about the expectations of his players, how he heard I played before, and what I needed to do to be part of their team. Then it came. That moment I will never forget. He looked at me and offered a handshake that to him probably meant an agreement to everything he just said.
Enter the slow motion moment that so many movies create to add emphasis or if you have ever been in a pivotal moment where it seems as if time actually slows down. As he put out his hand, he kept it close so that I had to reach out and grab it if I wanted to shake it. I realized that if I did take it, I was saying, “I’m all in”.
I walked away from that encounter realizing three things.
First, it was the beginning of something new.
Second, I could be anyone I wanted if I had the courage to reach out and become who I wanted to be.
Third, and most important, was that I would be the one making the decisions about how I went forward from there.
Well, at least in certain areas…after all, I was 14 and I still relied on a lot of people for even the basics.
You walked in these doors four years ago…nervous, uncertain, and maybe somewhat confident.
I truly hope, as you get ready to walk out of these doors for the last time as students, that you are a little nervous, uncertain, and a lot more confident.
Outside of those doors you face a new beginning. This is a time of celebration and yet it is a little bitter sweet as well. You have opened a door and as you look through, if you want to, you can see a vast expanse of the unknown. At this moment, there are no limits to who you can be. True, some versions will cost more whether it be money, sacrifice or work, but the opportunities are there. Think of the greatest accomplishments throughout history.
Those who accomplished them all started at the beginning, worked hard, failed, started again, and repeated the process not because it got easier, but because they believed in themselves and continued to improve. Everyone here tonight and even some who either couldn’t make it or fit in the room are here because they believe in you and your ability to take this beginning and make an awesome ending. Show them you can do it. No, scratch that. Show yourself that you can do it. You have been well prepared. Even if you doubt it at times trust me, you are prepared. Now all it takes is action on your part.
You live in unprecedented times of opportunity. The world is waiting to offer you anything you want; as long as you are willing to reach out and grab it. See, the scary thing about reaching for that space just beyond the current limitations of who you are is that you will have bumps, successes, failures, and at times, all out disasters. But that is ok. You are more resilient than you know. So if you are going to make mistakes; you may as well make them reaching higher than you thought possible.
Finally, the time is here. It is time for you to define your path. For the past 17 or 18 years people have been making decisions for you. Your life has been that of another’s creation. Be it your parents, school, or peer groups, others have been defining who you are: poet, athlete, scholar, musician, reader, singer, gamer; just to name a few. The time has come. Don’t be who others want you to be anymore. There is no greater freedom than being responsible for your own future. That doesn’t mean it’s easy; just special. Find, define, and make use of your own strengths instead of what others tell you. It is ok for others to help guide, but it is your future to decide. Yes, you will be unsure. Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will be the best feeling ever when you discover who you really are and live the life you want by working hard to achieve it.
Tonight’s a special night. I expect you to be overjoyed, nervous, and uncertain, but most of all excited and proud. Enjoy tonight and this weekend. You have earned it by crossing this stage tonight. I wish you the most sincere congratulations!
Oh yeah…that handshake I mentioned earlier…I did take it and it opened a world of opportunity and experiences too numerous to count that have made me who I am today. So I ask you on this day as you think about tomorrow and the next day as you think about the future and what it has to offer: Are you in? Are you ALL IN?
Here is a video of the speech being delivered live in its entirety. Feedback and comments are welcome!