As schools all over begin the home stretch, we begin to think of graduations and the prospect of sending our seniors out into the big, wide, world. So much focus and energy has been placed on the academic end of their education, and rightfully so. But before they go, it is also right that we should remind them of the other education they have hopefully been receiving, the life lessons countless teachers, and parents, and loved ones have imparted along the way.
I get the chance to say a few parting words at graduation each year, and it is my hope that I am at least reminding the students of those lessons they picked up along the way. As I prepare for yet another sending off, I thought I’d share the bullet points from last year’s address. A reminder that we don’t just teach them academics, it’s our high calling to teach them how to live lives that make a difference.
One: Love Others.
Decide today that you will serve a cause greater than yourselves – That you will give something back, that you will seek significance not in what you take or make or amass, but in what you do to make the world a better place.
While there are certainly countless examples of people in history who will be remembered for their wealth, what history remembers most are those who use that wealth to do Good in the world.
Two: Learn from your mistakes, but never be afraid to make them by trying something new.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about formal education to me is the fact that all of our focus on grades can sometimes teach students to take the safe road, and shy away from anything risky in order to make the grade. Don’t let your life experience up to this point teach you to fear failure so much you fail to try.
Three: Take responsibility for your actions, and always be willing to seek forgiveness.
Our mistakes cannot define us unless we let them. When we take responsibility for our wrongdoing and honestly seek to correct the issue and do what it takes to avoid repeating the mistake, this begins to define us as people of character. Our mistakes do not define us, what we do with them defines us. When you admit you’re wrong and seek forgiveness, honestly working to change whatever it is you need to change and make things right, you begin to build a life of character, and when you build a life of character, you build a life worth living.
Four: Be willing to forgive.
I think the difference between justice and mercy is simply this: When we wrong others we want mercy, but when we are wronged, we tend to want justice. . Somebody once told me, “Holding on to hatred and refusing to forgive someone is like eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die.” Holding on to bitterness, seeking revenge, being unwilling to forgive will eat at you like a cancer and destroy you from the inside out, and the worst part is, all your anger and bitterness usually doesn’t affect the person you’re upset with at all.
Five: Never forget to love, laugh, and play.
Life is way too short to not have fun. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”
For every educator who has invested in the lives of kids, may your efforts bear much fruit.