To all of you here assembled--faculty, parents and
friends, distinguished members of the stage party, and the class
of 2006-I bid you greeting. To say that I am delighted to be
here tonight is the understatement of my life. Most of you know
that I am days away from retirement. The opportunity to deliver
this address truly represents the last lesson in the last class
I am ever going to teach. Thank you for the opportunity to do
I would like to start with a couple of physics problems-you know F = ma and all that. I have brought markers and I am sure that our Colby friends won't mind if I use these white panels at the back of the stage. Let's have a show of hands for physics problems. What! No takers!?! Well, Today is your day. We will honor your choice. I have prepared remarks, just for this eventuality. In fact, If this address needs a title, I'll call it Choices, for it is the ability to make choices on your own without interference or approval from others that separates adulthood from adolescence. My purpose tonight is to cause you to look down the road at major decisions that await you. If you can make the right choices when decisions have to be made, personal happiness is likely to be the hallmark of your life. Let me cite some examples.
You are going to have to earn your way through life through hard work. There is no free ride. Find something you like to do and then do it well. Bring passion to your work place. You are going to spend forty hours per week, working to support yourself and those who depend on you. Doesn't it make sense to choose a profession where you enjoy going to work in the morning? It is hardly a bargain to earn lots of money and hate every minute that you are earning it.
I admit that this approach may cause you not be the wealthiest person in your family or in your neighborhood. You may have to drive an older car and maybe rent a cottage instead of owning one. I submit that the choice of enjoying your work and living within the means that that work provides will pay great dividends over the course of your life.
Eventually, you may find that living
alone is an empty existence and that finding a significant other
presents a better alternative. Choose your partner carefully.
If your lover is abusive, find another lover. And when you marry,
marry for love rather than lust; marry for commitment rather than
convenience. Ignore the pressures that others may bring to bear
that might rush your decision. Be sure that you know in your head
as well as your heart that marriage is the right thing to do and
don't back down. The choice you make should be the last and only
choice you make in selecting a spouse. I'm not suggesting that
divorce is wrong; this talk is not about right and wrong. It's
about making choices that lead to things other than bitterness
and upheaval and financial ruin. You're an adult now. You can
make your own wise choices if you stop and think about what you
are doing. If you live your life for bottom lines, the bottom
line here is simple: You deserve the very best.
Eventually children may enter your life. Please have children. People like me stay employed when you have children, although I am too far along in my career to work with your kids. But here, 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 important choice 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 to get anywhere in life, they need to be raised. They need to be raised by you. Both of you. On a good day, that means hard work; on a bad day, that means hard work piled higher with heartache and frustration. I have spent thirty six years working with other people's children. Those that have the best chance at success are those raised by nurturing parents in a stable setting. Perhaps we should revisit that bottom line and refashion it to read: Not only do you deserve the very best, but so do your children. Make wise choices to deliver what they deserve.
You will now be expected to be a contributing
member of your family and of your community. Make choices that
will enable you to fulfill that expectation. Stop and look around
you. This room is filled with people who love you. This event
is staged by a community that has spent millions of dollars on
you collectively to give you 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 of helping someone else. It doesn't matter what
you do: volunteer at the boys club; coach a little league team;
serve on a municipal board; take an active role in your church.
Before you go off to college, 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 you will give to it. Visit your grandmother,
all by yourself, because she loves you. Until now, all of these
things have been directed by the adults in your life. As of today,
you are the adult in your life. It's time for you to pick up that
So far, I have laid a pretty heavy trip
on you. And I need to make it a little heavier. ( we could still
go back to the problems.) I need to talk to you about substance
abuse. No, don't turn off yet. This is not the usual talk. Right
now, at your age, everything you want to try seems to be contraband
and life is a game of pushing the limit. But soon, life is going
to pull a nasty trick on you. Before you know it, you're going
to be twenty one and everything or nearly everything that was
once forbidden will now be legal. You will be able to buy all
that 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. What
is illegal today will soon be socially acceptable, even socially
expected when you're twenty one.. Your ability t o make wise choices
will be sorely tested here. Everything I have mentioned so far--a
good job, a loving relationship with spouse and children, respected
standing in the community--all can be lost by making the wrong
choices with mind-altering substances. Substance abuse is not
limited to skid-row losers. Some smart people I know have ruined
or nearly ruined their health and everything dear to them by letting
alcohol control their lives. Sadly, many of you had a front-row
seat to watch what should have been a sweet young family fall
apart because someone you love made poor choices. You're the adult
now. Make wise choices that have 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 to gain those things you have to give up all of the protection
that goes with youth. You are better skilled than ever before
in your life, but the challenges ahead are greater than ever.
The rewards for success are richer; the penalties for failure
are more severe. Tonight you are celebrating your success surrounded
by all of the friends and family you hold dear. Sadly, this is
the last time you will all be together. You are about to go out
and conquer the world, but you will have to do it in new settings
with new friends.
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: choose
a profession you like, marry the right person forever, bear children
you can raise, give back to your community and do it all with
sobriety. This assignment is not graded AY or BEE. It's graded
pass/fail, and failure is not an acceptable option.
I need to bring this talk to a close. You're here to get a diploma and I have more than used up my allotted time. One of the great delights in my life is running into former students, sometimes on the street or in a store, often as they deal with their own children and proving that there is justice in this world. If our paths cross again, please stop and say hello. And tell me how your homework assignment is going. If your life's path takes you far from Waterville, so be it. But remember that as you leave, the tug at your back is a tie to this city; follow it home whenever you need counsel or support.
Enough of this. You have choices to make.
Good night. Good luck. May God bless you all