Saturday, May 7, 2011

My 3-word speech

During my tenure on the Wood County School Board, I had the opportunity to sit through a lot of graduation ceremonies. Early in my career, we voted to change the high school graduations from all three being on the same night (with one or two of five board members attending each ceremony), to having each school holding their own graduation on successive nights (rotating each year as to who goes first). This allowed family members who might want to attend more than one ceremony to do so (such as grandparents with graduates at different schools). Thus, all five board members attended three nights of graduation ceremonies all in a row.

As I sat through all those speeches, I would sometimes think back to my own Parkersburg High School graduation night (Was it really 35 years ago? My how times flies!). It had rained that afternoon, so the irreversible decision was made to move the ceremony from the football stadium to inside the Memorial Fieldhouse. However, the rain quit and the sun came out a few hours before the ceremony, making it a hot and humid evening—in fact, it was downright sticky with our dress clothes covered by the suffocating graduation robes.

PHS was the largest school in the state at that time, and I remember that the persons sitting on either side of me were strangers whom I had never met. The guy on one side was probably a vo-tech student. I think the girl must have been a teenage mom—back then, they didn't allow students who were pregnant to stay in school with the rest of us. That attitude is certainly antiquated today. By the time I was elected to the school board in 1992, one of our high schools had its own day care center, where teen moms could leave their babies while they attended class, and other students could get credit for learning child care while taking care of them.

Besides memories of my own graduation, the main thing that I thought about during all those graduation speeches was that they were too long. My own graduation in the stifling heat of the jam-packed Fieldhouse was way too long, and decades later the ceremonies had not become any shorter. I vowed to myself that if I were ever invited to give a graduation speech, it would be one of the most shortest graduation speeches ever. I decided to try and distill the essential message down to the fewest number of words. Eventually, I came up with my three word graduation speech.

You see, I think one of the most important thoughts to get across to young people finishing school is not about savoring the accomplishment of getting a diploma. Your education should not end with a mere handshake and a walk off the stage. Yes, graduation is a defined milepost that everyone should strive to achieve, but none of us should ever stop learning. Don't kid yourself into thinking that just because you now have a piece of paper, you don't need to study or read or learn new skills. The education process needs to be a continuing, life long practice.

The world is changing far too rapidly to not continue using the same study habits and inquisitive nature that leads to reaching the graduation milepost. Explore more about what interests you—there is a lot more to the Internet than just music, videos, and games. Feed your curiosity. Learn more about your job so that you can get ahead. Those who choose to never pick up a book again and who only want to watch Jersey Shore, Jerry Springer, or whatever other junk TV shows are popular hits of the day are going to get left behind in the game of life (anyone remember that board game?). They become the roadkill along the side of the information superhighway.

The key is to continue using the skills that allowed you to graduate, to keep you going as technology and society evolve. Graduation is not about finishing school—it is about starting life, whether it is life in a job, in a marriage, in another institution of higher learning, or whatever. In today's world, if you stop learning, you will soon be going backwards. You can't be stagnant. Always keep putting one foot in front of the other, and constantly add to your wisdom. This is how one succeeds.

And most of all, heed the three words of my graduation speech: NEVER STOP LEARNING!

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