CHOICES
copyright 1997 Michael Gosselin
June 5, 1997


I am delighted to be here to present this address tonight. Giventhe number of teachers with whom you have interacted in your thirteenyears of public education, to be chosen as the last to stand anddeliver is an honor I will cherish for a long time. Of course,it is an honor that comes with more than just a little responsibility.The expectation is that I shall bring words of wisdom that willprovide guidance for a lifetime--all in eight minutes. That isa tall order, but I will try. My formal training is in physicsand mathematics, but I will spare you from F = ma. Instead, Iwish to address people issues based on the broad stream of humanityI have observed these many, many years.
If this address needs a title, I'll call it Choices, for it isthe ability to make choices on your own without interference orapproval from others that separates adulthood from adolescence.My purpose tonight is to cause you to look down the road at majordecisions that await you. If you can make the right choices whendecisions have to be made, personal happiness is likely to bethe hallmark of your life. Let me cite some examples.
You are going to have to earn your way through life through hardwork. There is no free ride. Find something you like to do andthen do it well. You are going to spend forty hours per week,that's twenty five percent of your life over the next forty fiveyears, working to support yourself and those who depend on you.Doesn't it make sense to choose a profession where you enjoy goingto work in the morning? It is hardly a bargain to earn lots ofmoney and hate every minute that you are earning it. I admit thatthis approach may cause you not be the wealthiest person in yourfamily or in your neighborhood. You may have to drive an oldercar and maybe rent a cottage instead of owning one. I submit thatthe choice of enjoying your work and living within the means thatthat work provides will pay great dividends over the course ofyour life.
Eventually, you may find that living alone is an empty existenceand that finding a significant other presents a better alternative.Choose your partner carefully. If your lover is abusive, findanother lover. And when you marry, marry for love rather thanlust; marry for commitment rather than convenience. Ignore thepressures that others may bring to bear that might rush your decision.Be sure that you know in your head as well as your heart thatmarriage is the right thing to do and don't back down. The choiceyou make should be the last and only choice you make in selectinga spouse. I'm not suggesting that divorce is wrong; this talkis not about right and wrong. It's about making choices that leadto things other than bitterness and upheaval and financial ruin.You're an adult now. You can make your own wise choices if youstop and think about what you are doing. If you live your lifefor bottom lines, the bottom line here is simple: You deservethe very best.
Eventually children may enter your life. Please have children.People like me stay employed when you have children, althoughI may be too far along in my career to work with your kids. Buthere, too, in planning a family, you need to make wise choices.Sire and bear your children when you are ready--ready emotionally,financially, spiritually. Becoming a parent may be the most importantchoice you will ever make. Almost any couple can make a baby.The trouble is, all babies are different and none comes with directions.Your children will grow older on their own. But if they are toget anywhere in life, they need to be raised. They need to beraised by you. Both of you. On a good day, that means hard work;on a bad day, that means hard work piled higher with heartacheand frustration. I have spent twenty seven years working withother people's children. Those that have the best chance at successare those raised by nurturing parents in a stable setting. Perhapswe should revisit that bottom line and refashion it to read: Notonly do you deserve the very best, but so do your children. Makewise choices to deliver what they deserve.
You will now be expected to be a contributing member of your familyand your community. Make choices that will enable you to fulfillthat expectation. Stop and look around you. This room is filledwith people who love you. This event is staged by a communitythat has spent millions of dollars on you collectively to giveyou the best start in life it could muster. For eighteen years,you have held out your hand and someone has been there to help.The next time you hold out your hand, do it with the intent ofhelping someone else. It doesn't matter what you do: volunteerat the boys club; coach a little league team; serve on a municipalboard; take an active role in your church. Before you go off tocollege, volunteer at a local soup kitchen; there's a real eye-opener.And do it not for what you will get out of it, but for what youwill give to it. Visit your grandmother, all by yourself, becauseshe loves you. Until now, all of these things have been directedby the adults in your life. As of today, you are the adult inyour life. It's time to pick up that burden.
So far, I have laid a pretty heavy trip on you. And I need tomake it a little heavier. I need to talk to you about substanceabuse. No, don't turn off yet. This is not the usual talk. Rightnow, at your age, everything you want to try seems to be contrabandand life is a game of pushing the limit. But soon, life is goingto pull a nasty trick on you. Before you know it, you're goingto be twenty one and everything or nearly everything that wasonce forbidden will now be legal. You will be able to buy allthat you want, all that you'll need, all that you can afford.Someone will sell it to you even if you can't afford it. Whatis illegal today will soon be socially acceptable, even sociallyexpected. Your ability t o make wise choices will be sorely testedhere. Everything I have mentioned so far--a good job, a lovingrelationship with spouse and children, respected standing in thecommunity--all can be lost by making the wrong choices with mind-alteringsubstances. Substance abuse is not limited to skid-row losers.Some smart people I know have ruined or nearly ruined their healthand everything dear to them by letting alcohol control their lives.Sadly, many of you had a front-row seat to watch what should havebeen a sweet young family fall apart because someone you lovemade poor choices. You're the adult now. Make wise choices thathave a better chance at success.
This graduation season is a very bittersweet time in your life.Ahead lie freedom and independence and self-direction. But togain those things you have to give up all of the protection thatgoes with youth. You are better skilled than ever before in yourlife, but the challenges ahead are greater than ever. The rewardsfor success are richer; the penalties for failure are more severe.Tonight you are celebrating your success surrounded by all ofthe friends and family you hold dear. Sadly, this is the lasttime you will all be together. You are about to go out and conquerthe world, but you will have to do it in new settings with newfriends.
Is this scary? yes, it is. Can you do all of this? Yes, you can,if you make wise choices. You asked a teacher to speak here tonight,you get a homework assignment. Your assignment is this: choosea profession you like, marry the right person forever, bear childrenyou can raise, give back to your community and do it all withsobriety. This assignment is not graded AY or BEE. It's gradedpass/fail, and failure is not an acceptable option.
I need to bring this talk to a close. You're here to get a diplomaand I have more than used up my allotted time. One of the greatdelights in my life is running into former students, sometimeson the street or in a store, often as they deal with their ownchildren and proving that there is justice in this world. If ourpaths cross again, please stop and say hello. And tell me howyour homework assignment is going. If your life's path takes youfar from Waterville, remember the internet. I can check your homeworkon the school's home page. Please click on my name and say hello.
Enough of this. You have choices to make.
Good night. Good luck. May God bless you all.
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