Last year at this time, I had the honor of getting to speak at the graduation ceremony for the school where I work.
I was so busy at the time.
Actually, it was the most stressful time of my life up to that point.
As a result, I didn’t get to start writing the speech until the week of graduation.
Somehow I got done what I needed to get done and wrote a speech… not knowing completely why or what I was truly writing.
I wrote this speech for the graduating class of 2016… but this past week, as I read over the speech from a year ago, I realize those words were meant for me. I had been writing the words that I needed to hear.
And I didn’t even know it.
I doubt anyone who was sitting in the audience remembers anything about the speech.
However, I do…
Here is the transcript:
When I started thinking about what I was going to say to you guys…
I did what I usually do when I start writing something… I stare at that blinking line (1).
You know, the one that just sits there flashing.
The one that makes you think, “Oh great. I’ve got a lot to write and so far I got nothin’.”
Then I started thinking… Graduates, this is where you are… you sit at the beginning of the next chapter of your life. You sit with a chance to begin a new story. And so I ask you:
What is waiting in front of your blinking line?
I don’t know if you realize this yet… because I believe most people live their entire lives and never catch on to it…
You were put on this earth for something special.
The question is… how do you get there?
One July a few years back, my wife and I were driving home from Florida… We like to make the trip through Nashville on the way down there and on the way home because we have some friends who live there and we stop to visit.
We left Florida and drove most of the day on Interstate 65 North all the way to Nashville. We stay at our friends’ house, and the next morning we get up and get on I65 N again, heading home.
As we are just leaving Nashville, we see this big church that had been destroyed by a tornado… We remembered the news showing severe weather that had hit Nashville several weeks before. I made the comment, “Man, how did we miss that on the way down here?” We talked about the storm, the church, and moved on… continuing on I65 N, heading towards home.
We were enjoying our ride together. When we drive in the summer, we usually talk, discuss what we are doing with our lives, what we see in our future in the years to come. I’m thinking about if the Cardinals play tonight; she’s talking about how many kids we want to have, and so on.
But we are just really enjoying being together and driving.
We get another 30 minutes or so down the road, and we get to a town, White House, TN. I say, “White House… I’ve never noticed that town before.”
We continue to drive, talking, enjoying ourselves… and then we get to this gigantic T-Rex on the side of the road…
I mean big… It’s like 80ft tall!
(Dinosaur World – Cave City, KY—Google it.)
And I say… “HOW IN THE WORLD?! I have never seen that before. How have I missed that?!”
Now keep in mind… I have driven to and from Nashville at least 10 or 15 times at this point… And I never had seen this 80 ft tall, giant T-Rex on the side of the road…
We keep driving… soon we come to the town of Bowling Green, KY, and I spot the National Corvette Museum…
And all of a sudden… I realize… an immense panic comes over my face… I say to myself… Brian, you just took 65 N… and that is fine from Florida to Nashville… but Nashville to home is Interstate 24.
Guys… I drove past an 80 ft tall dinosaur and I had no idea I was going the wrong way! I had never felt so stupid in my life… I was an hour and a half in the wrong direction! We had to cut across gravel roads in the middle of Nowhere, Kentucky, for like two hours just to get across to the highway we were supposed to get on.
AND DID I SAY THERE WAS AN 80 FT TALL DINOSAUR SCREAMING AT ME?
“YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!”
It’s easy to get distracted in life.
It’s easy to take a wrong turn.
It’s easy to make a bad choice that will get you way off track in your life journey.
But right now… RIGHT NOW… You are at a fresh, clean start…
You are at a blinking line…
You are at YOUR blinking line…
What sits in front of you waiting to be brought into existence?
What are you uniquely designed for?
What do you need to focus on so that you DON’T get distracted or so you DON’T make a wrong turn or go down the wrong road?
I’ve known you guys for a while now…
I was Assistant Principal when most of you were in 5th grade… The 5th grade year is important for many reasons, but none stick out more than the day that changes most of you for the rest of your life:
The day that you watch the 5th grade video. You know what I’m talking about. The moment all nurses look forward to. The moment that you are introduced to how your “body works.”
Maybe for you, that day wasn’t a big deal and you don’t remember it because you already knew that stuff…
Maybe you were absent that day, and that may explain why you still can’t get that boy or girl to like you…
Maybe you were like the rest of your class that I noticed who came into lunch that day in the cafeteria redfaced and refusing to talk or make eye contact with ANYONE…
But that was when I first met most of you… little 5th graders.
I then had a lot of you in 7th grade science class. Except of course you Belleview kids. You joined us later and we are so glad you did.
And my first day as High School Principal was your first day in high school.
And my last day as High School Principal is now your last day in high school.
And here is what I know about you:
You guys are a special group of kids.
You guys have soooo much potential.
I want to end by telling you a story I heard (2). It never made it into my history class at school, and I doubt it did for you here.
It’s the story of a guy named Eleazar. Eleazar was a member of the Jewish army in a battle against the Greeks around 160 BC. The Greek army at this time would place towers with archers on top of big armored elephants and then surround them with troops.
The simple story of Eleazar is that he saw one of the elephant towers that appeared to be carrying the king on top of it…
So, what did he do?
He took off, fighting through the 1000 soldiers that surrounded the elephant. Knowing he could not get to the king up high on the tower on the elephant… and knowing the elephant had armor on the outside of his body…. he went underneath the elephant and struck it in the belly… The elephant collapsed and fell on Eleazar and killed him underneath it.
Weird story, right?
I mean Eleazar went after it… He went under the elephant… killed it… and then died when it collapsed on him.
But I don’t think he was stupid.
I think he knew what he was doing.
Here is the deal… I don’t know if you know this…
You are GOING to encounter obstacles in your life…
You are going to struggle to pay the bills.
You are going to have people betray you.
You are going to lose a friend or loved one.
You are going to maybe lose a job,
get cancer, or have a loved one get cancer…
Life is GOING to be hard…
You’re going to face what might seem like 1000 soldiers…
And at some point we are each going to die…
So my question to you today is this:
Why not go after the elephant?
Why not go down fighting for something?
Why not find something you love to do in life and go after it?
Why not find something that ticks you off about the world and go try and fix it?
Whatever you pursue will be a challenge.
So why not throw yourself into something that fills you with life while you are doing it?
Class of 2016,
You have accomplished something great today… You have.
But my hope for you is that this is NOT the crowning achievement of your life.
My hope for you is that you use your Blinking Line to create something great… that you bring something unique into existence in the world.
My hope for you is that you don’t need a giant T-Rex to tell you you’re off track.
My hope for you is that you go after the Elephant!
But may you NOT simply hope…
Hoping is a horrible strategy.
Hoping has no real action.
Don’t just HOPE you accomplish something great in your life… DO IT.
Live your life using VERBS (3)…
(You learned about these in English, right? Action words.)
FIGHT for what is Good
And yes, be ready to leave this place, but be sure you remember where you came from. You will always have a place right here.
But for now…
There are bigger things ahead for you.
There are harder problems for you to solve.
There are more difficult obstacles for you to face.
And finally in the words of my favorite poet, Ben Haggerty (You probably know him as Macklemore):
“Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love, do it everyday. Do that for the rest of your life and eventually the world will change (4).”
(1) Bell, Rob. How To Be Here: A Guide To Creating A Life Worth Living. HarperCollins Publishers, New York NY (2016)
(3) wisdom from my wife… Anna-Marie (2016)
(4) lyrics by BEN HAGGERTY, TYLER WILLIAMS, ED SHEERAN, RYAN LEWIS, JOSHUA RAWLINGS, OWUOR ARUNGA, JOSHUA KARP. LYRICS © KOBALT MUSIC PUBLISHING LTD. (2015)
It’s funny the way stuff works sometimes.
How many times have I been off track and missed what the Giant T-Rex is trying to show me?
How many times I’ve lived nouns when I need to be living verbs?
What will be the next obstacle I face?
What is waiting in front of my blinking line now?