It is an honor to speak before you today. I’m proud to be among a sea of friends. Today, I have a trifecta happening, I am a school board trustee, an alumni and a parent of one of today’s graduates. Special shout out to my boy, Jake! This graduating class takes on special meaning to me as I have witnessed first-hand a majority of the students grow from kindergartners to graduates.
If someone would have told me almost 30 years ago that one day I would be delivering a graduation speech for Calhoun, I would have said he were crazy. Like many of the graduates today, I was hard pressed to graduate from high school and move on to the real world. My end goal was high school graduation. As a Calhoun student, I’ve repeated the same words so many of you have to your own parents regarding my classes “when will I ever need this in real life”. Well, the only reason I was able to write today’s speech and read it without a bundle of nerves is credited to two of my former Calhoun high school teachers. My English teacher, Mrs. Schuman who taught me the beauty and art of the English language and Mr. Parkinson, my public speaking teacher who taught me the strategies to be articulate when speaking in front of others. Ironically, public speaking was a last minute choice, obviously that class paid off.
As evidenced today, what you learn in high school can and will be applied. In years to come, I promise that each of you will reflect on the teachers who most influenced you.
In keeping with today’s gratitude. I’d like all the teachers present today to stand and be recognized for their contributions to our district. Thank you for all you do for our students in Bellmore-Merrick and being an inspiration to our students, administrators and the board of education. Your passion and love for teaching and the students are appreciated and do not go unnoticed.
As a trustee, I have witnessed the greatness of our students and staff daily. The standard for academic success was set high and each of you sitting before me have met it. Our Calhoun teachers have guided you and challenged you. Each of you today has risen to those challenges.
Faculty, family and friends have all made sacrifices in helping you be successful. Whether it was a teacher extending a deadline or offering extra help or your parent who received that 911 text to bring your homework or that book you forgot. That your parent’s life immediately came to a halt to rush to school to get your much needed items to the office in time. Also, let’s not forget your friends who rescued you when you forgot an assignment and offered help.
Why would so many people go through such lengths for you? The reason is simple. They want you to succeed and do well. It’s a common thread that binds all of these people to your life. We all share in this rewarding moment and celebrate this milestone with you. As a school board trustee it is the highlight of the year when we hand out diplomas and watch each student cross the stage as your dream of graduation is realized by all of us in attendance. The fruits are your labor are rewarded today.
Whether you are entering the workforce after graduation or moving on to higher education, the advice is the same. Take risks. Asks questions. Planning and dreaming are great but I challenge you all to be doers. Don’t sit back gazing into the future of what could be. Be present. Action happens in the now. Greatness can’t be gained through the confines of a comfort zone. Push yourself and work hard. Be life-long learners. Never lose your thirst for knowledge.
Graduation is an interesting time in your lives as you are immediately propelled into adulthood. A week ago you’re a high school student and next month you’re an adult. Shed the skin of others expectations today and adhere to a new expectation. The one you put on yourself. Set the threshold high. Set goals. Make plans. Then work your way toward them.
You will encounter many people along your journey. There are lessons to be learned from each of them. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your interactions, people will always remember how you treated them and your kindness.
Here’s a small example I can share with you. When I was in Calhoun, we had an AV squad back then. That can probably be more associated to a computer club now. The students on this squad weren’t necessarily my friends but I always said hi to those who passed me in the halls. With the help of social media, I connected with so many past classmates. When I suffer a tech emergency, my first phone call is to one of these people who were on that AV squad back in my high school days. He is now the successful owner of a technology company.
Today you are surrounded by classmates however one day you might come to meet them and they will be professionals. At your high school reunion, you will be surrounded by former classmates who are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, counselors, and the list can go on and on. My point in telling you this is not to burn bridges. You never know when someone from your past will be an olive branch in the future.
You don’t need to have all the answers in life right now. We adults don’t even have all the answers. But each of us moves forward as you will. Part of life is making mistakes. There will be times you fail. Embarrassment or disappointment may try to defeat you. Don’t be blinded by self-doubt because it may infringe on your ability to learn from your mistakes and make you defensive. Be receptive to the constructive criticism and work on your weaknesses to turn them into strengths. Make smart, well thought out decisions.
You are responsible for your life. Your parents, your family and your teachers have guided you thus far. But now is your chance to make your mark. Life is full of choices. Picture life as a road map. Each choice puts you on a path. Make sure your choices lead you on a path that you are ultimately proud of and will help contribute to your success. Live the life that YOU want, and follow that path to your happiness.
Today is a critical point in your life. The future is an open book and you will be responsible for writing the pages. You don’t want your life comprised of excuses of obstacles that stood in your way, who didn’t tell you something or by someone not offering sound advice. Someone will always have more or less than you. Find opportunities and leap at them. Figure a way over or around obstacles. Don’t rely on gossip and rumors as facts. You are tasked to investigate things for yourself. Learn things first hand. Be accountable for your actions. Take this mantle of responsibility and use it to your advantage to be the best version of yourself possible. If you had a bad day, experienced a disappointing test grade, flopped on a job interview don’t fret. Don’t be stuck in that moment. Rather turn the page of your life’s book and start fresh tomorrow. You are the author of your own story and are capable of changing the narrative at any point.
We are gathered today because of your academic achievements but more important than that is continuing with the strong character education you’ve been taught. You can be the most successful person in the world but if you don’t have good moral character, life is shallow. Continue to be a good person. Be kind in all you do and to all you encounter. Be compassionate. Be generous. Be accepting, Be tolerant. Be humble. You never know how your words or kind gestures may impact another person. Your integrity is your calling card in life. Be true to your word and never break it. You are only as good as your word. A reputation is what others think of you. Integrity is what you think of yourself.
This truly is the time of your life. Seize the day. Enjoy your friends this summer. Enjoy the beach, ½ price apps at Bees and revel in being around those you love most. Don’t base your worth on how many likes you have on Instagram. Social media isn’t the benchmark of one’s value. Don’t lose out on moments in order to capture it in a picture. Don’t be a slave to your phone or preoccupied with who is texting you. Just stop. Put the phone down and participate in making memories with those who are present. Live life every day to the fullest.
In closing, we look forward to hearing about you even after today’s graduations. We celebrate in your greatness, your achievements and milestones today and beyond. We are all enormously proud of you. Remember, once a Colt, always a Colt. We all bleed blue!
On behalf of the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District’s Board of Education, Congratulations to the Sanford H. Calhoun Graduating class of 2016. You did it!