Every year around graduation time I write a speech that I would give at a graduation if anyone ever asked me to. Here what I would say to the graduates 2014.
It is an honour to be standing here in front of you addressing you for the last time as high school students. Your career as children has effectively come to an end, from here on in, you will be treated like adults, held accountable for your actions and suffer the consequences society deems on your transgressions.
It’s not a rosy world out there. Technology has eroded whatever privacy we once had, the government has curtailed our personal rights and freedoms and the economy sucks. Taking all this into account, one has to wonder why anyone would want to leave the comfort and sheltering atmosphere of a high school, but unfortunately, as we get older, we must move on.
John Mayer once sang that his generation was “waiting for the world to change”. His song talked about how he and his peers feel powerless to governments and how they have great ideas, but there is no way they could ever implement them, so they sit around waiting for the world to change.
It is unfortunate that the song became a hit, because it promotes the worst advice you can ever give a young person, hopelessness. One person can change the world, that person can be you.
Think about it for a second. Ghandi grabbed the world’s attention with a hunger strike to achieve freedom for his country, one man, single handily and hungrily changed the world for his people.
Eleven year old Craig Kielburger decided that he didn’t like the fact that little children were hooking rugs in India, so he and his brother Marc started an organization called Free the Children. At twelve, Craig convinced then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to tour Indian rug factories. The results were tougher legislation in Canada to stop Canadian retailers from carrying slave labour imports. His multi-billion dollar organization is still run by him today and still fights for the rights of children being abused around the world.
One kid, one voice, one dream.
There are so many examples of one person changing the world that I would need a hundred thousand hours to write this, so I will leave it at these two. The point I am making, however, is that nothing comes to people who wait. You must be pro-active, make things happen, never accept no as an answer. Keep fighting until you win, because at the end of the day, those who give up on their dreams, spend their whole lives wishing they hadn’t. Don’t ever give up on your dreams.
Ok, enough of the lecturing, here is some practical life advice.
Always respect yourself. The true sign of a good person is one who respects themselves and treats others with the respect that they would want on themselves.
Your actions, your words, your life reflects who you are. Look around at your friends, at your activities and imagine how others are seeing you. If you don’t like the picture, change it.
It’s great to dream about freedoms. Most of you are turning 18 in a very short time, you will have the freedom to vote, always exercise that freedom because there are millions of people who would and do die for that opportunity.
You will also have the freedom to drink legally. Now I’m not going to pretend that none of you have tried drinking, that would be naive. Everything is great, in moderation and responsibly. If you drink, don’t drive. If you drive, don’t drink, it’s that simple.
Don’t do drugs, ever. They will kill you.
Most importantly, however, is to realize that you are in control of your destiny. There is no karma, no secret to success, no magic formula that will make you richer, better or more popular than the next person.
Life is hard work, sacrifice and compromise. Most of you will not achieve every goal you set for yourself, will not turn out the way you dreamed, will not marry the person of your fantasy and will not live in a villa sipping margaritas all day by the pool.
With that in mind, remember, wherever you end up, whatever adventure life takes you on, always stand by your goals and your principles. Those who do, will never lose.
So I wish the graduating class of 2014 a hearty congratulations. May your life be filled with health, wealth and happiness and may you leave here and achieve greatness.