Faculty Speech from the 2011 Irondequoit High School NHS Induction Ceremony on May 17:
Congratulations Parents, Family, and Irondequoit High School 2011 National Honor Society inductees. I am truly honored you’ve asked me to speak to you this evening, and humbled to share the stage with such noble, talented, and inspired young men and women.
Given that this is an NHS induction, I’d like to talk for a few moments about the tenets of NHS membership: scholarship, leadership, service, and character, so I’d ask for your indulgence while I stand up on my soapbox and perhaps provide a slightly different perspective on what this night really means.
First, inductees, you are all here for a reason. You’ve worked hard, you’ve achieved, you’ve served, and you’ve led. Again, my sincere congratulations, and my even stronger congratulations to your families – for I think we all know that success in life is built upon a strong foundation of love, caring, discipline, and respect at home.
But what does it mean to be inducted into NHS? Something I hope you’ve reflected upon prior to this evening’s ceremony. I thought hard about what it meant to me when I was a student, and again a few weeks ago when I was asked to speak tonight. And I come to the same conclusion tonight as I did those many years ago – The award itself is nothing… It’s a piece of paper in hand, and nothing more.
Ralph Waldo Emerson explained “The reward of a thing well done is to have done it.”
And if you spent those years of sweat, frustration, humility and growth for the piece of paper, I hate to tell you this, but it was all wasted. So then what is tonight about? It’s not about an award and it’s not the culmination of years of hard work, because nothing has culminated. This isn’t an ending, and it’s certainly not a high achievement – not for you. We’re expecting much more.
The true value has come in your journey to this point, and that’s hardly yet begun! The real award is the pride and confidence you’ve fostered in yourself, and the opportunities you’ve unlocked through your diligence and strife. We, your teachers, family and friends, come together tonight to show our support and respect for the path you’ve chosen.
You work hard, you get good grades, you take challenging classes, and you have a strong foundation of academics behind you.
Terrific, way to go, pat yourselves on the back, and take a deep breath, because here’s what we teachers haven’t told you – 90% of what you’ve learned in your school books you’ll never use again. And I think that’s probably being generous.
What you’ve REALLY learned are skills so much more valuable in today’s world. How to teach yourselves. How to think independently. How to question authority, and how to submit to it. How to get along with jackasses. And how to work productively in teams. These are the skills you’re going to truly need again and again in life. It only gets tougher from here, but so do you.
Lessons in leadership you can only truly learn by making mistakes. Thousands of books on leadership exist, because there are thousands of theories, and they’re all different. Why? Because leadership depends on the situation. Only your heart can can guide you. There’s no secret formula for success. What I can share with you, however, are a few of my thoughts from which perhaps you can gleam a nugget of gold.
- Find the value, potential, and passion in people. Recognize their value, support their growth, and find a way to kindle their passions.
- Admit your mistakes, learn from them, and don’t repeat them. Besides, people are always amazed when you find new and creative mistakes to make.
- Share your emotions. Sympathy, excitement, empathy, understanding, and caring are requirements for building trust, but there’s also nothing wrong with expressing dismay, disappointment, frustration, and righteous rage in the appropriate circumstances.
- A leader is honest. No ifs, ands, or buts. That’s it, honest.
- A leader walks his or her own path, modeling the vision they wish to instill in others by always doing their best. If you give your best to the endeavors you cherish and value, you cannot fail.
Service is so much more than counting hours as you pick up trash along the side of the highway or wash cars for a charity… service is finding a way to share your special gifts and talents with your fellow man. Finding your talents and a means of sharing them isn’t always easy or straightforward, but once you do find them, service becomes an enjoyable way of life, and not a chore or recurring obligation.
So I ask you to think about how you can make the world a better place, and start by finding one thing you can do each and every day of your life.
Character is, ultimately, the most important and perhaps sole criterion for membership. Character is a reflection of your own personal self-worth.
Thomas MacAuley said, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.”
If you have strong character, then scholarship, leadership, and service will take care of themselves.
As I was growing up, like most kids, I thought my parents were always wrong. As I got older, I realized they had an annoying habit of being right most of the time. Unfortunately, my realization occurred right about the time they started telling me I had to make my own decisions. Nevertheless, I’d like to leave you with a bit of advice my father gave me, that’s proven most worthwhile time and time again in my life, and I hope you find it of value as well.
He told me that when faced with a difficult decision, do what you think and feel in your heart is right, regardless of what your friends, family, peers, rules, and even society may tell you.
Even if it’s hard.
Even if you don’t want to.
Even if society disagrees.
If you live by this philosophy, you’ll never lie awake at night regretting your decisions.
It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but he was right. I ended up in the principal’s office a few times in high school for standing up for what was right… it was unsettling, but I could hold my head high.
At times I met a few more college administrators than I would have liked, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
I had the opportunity to enjoy a few less-than-comfortable discussions with my supervisors and employees over the years, but I did what was right.
And every single time, I came out the better for it… not on paper, perhaps, but inside, where it counts. And I’ve never lost a lick of sleep following this philosophy.
You have a long road ahead of you, and we congratulate you tonight not on the piece of paper you’re receiving, but for the young men and women you’ve become. We salute your courage, dedication, discipline, and honor as you continue your journey down whatever path you choose in life. Tonight, I ask of you only one thing, but a mighty request it is – I want you to promise yourselves, right here and right now, that you will live your life to the high expectations and standards of your own morals and beliefs.
Always with Integrity, and therefore without Regret.