Your Special Day

By Bob Houghtaling

Dear Graduating Seniors,

I preface these comments by offering you the greatest respect. The accolades, soon to be bestowed, for graduating 12 years of schooling, should bring a sense of pride to those who revel in your success. Before being handed a diploma, however, I ask you to reflect upon a few simple considerations.

While preparing to don your cap and gown, think, for a moment, of those graduates in the past who were equally adorned. What might they have been contemplating prior to their special day? Can you imagine the hope and pride emanating from both their families and themselves? They were not much different from you.

The line of demarcation between what is ordinary and special can be razor thin. In fact, I wonder if it exists at all. You are a part of a long and cherished legacy. That commonality is what helps to make this moment precious.

You have probably already heard a bunch of stuff lately about leadership and the future. In addition, family members most likely have been bragging about your deeds and how smart you are. While your apotheosis might be warranted, is anyone urging you to make mistakes? Is anyone telling you to ask questions, respect, but challenge authority and try different things? If so, great. If not, consider it done. I am the guy asking you to risk that which might seem counterintuitive. It’s O.K. to wrestle with a few endeavors on occasion. It offers humility. It offers a challenge. It also offers insight into the commonality of the world, acknowledging that we all are confronted with difficulty from time to time. This is how we grow and growth is something we will always have opportunities for.

In no way am I seeking to dislodge you from your rightful place of honor. Your accomplishments should be noted. The talents you possess will be valuable contributions to the world.

What I am asking you to reflect upon has less to do with your ‘specialness’ and more so on a sense of ‘commonness’. I am asking that you do not leave the determination of what constitutes special to numbers, titles and the accruing of things. Who you are as a person should play at least an important role.

In many ways you have been lied to about all of that special stuff. You have been given honors and awards for graduating Kindergarten and Elementary School. You have been convinced that being good at school means that those not so adroit are destined for failure. Sure, school is important. But, there are those who found great success after struggling at school when young. One’s opportunities for learning are limitless. High School should never be the pinnacle of your life. It is an important way station on the road to a fascinating journey. Don’t let your place in the High School cafeteria determine more than a moment.

When adults tell you not to settle for average – that is, at best, cliché ridden. There is no settling for average. Average is something to aspire to. Yes, for some, moments of adulation will come. Yes, for some, a unique talent may allow for financial success. Yes, these can be wonderful things. True riches, however, will come through the relationships you cultivate, as well as, the respect and understanding shown to others.

There are many paths to success. Choosing one can often prove difficult. In addition, many of us choose to change direction from time to time. What is great about our choosing is that the obstacles put before us create opportunities. Special in essence is a dynamic that occurs when we encounter living. In doing this we create a personal story. We are all in this alone, together. The choices are ours – but the fruits we gather can be shared by all.

So be a good son or daughter. Be a good friend and neighbor. Be an honest and hard working employee. These are things anyone can do – but no one does it the same way. Everyday engagements create the indelible fabric of society. They are the average contributions that lead to a better world.

Enjoy the party. Enjoy the beach. Enjoy the summer job. You certainly deserve it. As for the future, I wish you a lifetime of success. In the end, I hope you have many wonderfully average experiences. Through these, there will be an abundance of special occurrences.

Tell those who have helped you they are appreciated. Give your parents a hug. Success does not occur in a vacuum. Thanks for all of your efforts. Today is the beginning of tomorrow.