Graduation Speech

Thank you… I would like to welcome the faculty, the parents and most importantly the students of the class of 2012 (along with all those random people who just like going to these things) to the James Madison High school graduation ceremony.
I cannot begin to express what an honor it is to stand in front of you today. As I look out among the graduates here I see so many familiar faces. It seems just like yesterday that you guys came in as freshmen – some scared and awkward (and yes, you too would stop in the middle of the hallway creating the same traffic jams that drove you crazy these last few years) while others of you came in confidant and strong (a little too confident if you asked some of your teachers). Watching each of you grow has been a true pleasure. In fact seeing some of you who are about to cross this stage means I may have lost a bet or two. Oh well… that’s a bet I’m happy to lose.
When I was asked to be the commencement speaker for graduation I was taken back, truly honored. This is important I thought, so as you guys have worked tirelessly and diligently over the last four years I too wanted to put the same effort into this speech… so basically I pulled an all-nighter writing this writing this speech last night…
I have thought long and hard about what it is that I want to tell you today, what great pearls of wisdom shall I impart upon you as you embark on your voyage out to the real world. What can I say to motivate you, inspire you to greatness? I have consulted with many a wise person (and many a not-so-wise persons) to see what important lessons still need to be bestowed upon you.
I have boiled it down to his…. Are you ready for it? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway…
You are all going to fail… pretty inspiring huh? Right about now I can feel the administration squirming behind me thinking “who invited this guy back?” But seriously… you are, each and every one of you will fail at something. In fact I’ll go out on a limb and say that you have already failed at something – and no I’m not talking about your English or math class.
You will fail, and you will learn from it and you will grow from it. Everyone who has been successful has most likely had to overcome failure and adversity along the way. If we quit every time we failed at something or were not immediately successful we would never accomplish anything. Think about it, you wouldn’t know how to tie your shoes, you wouldn’t know how to ride a bike, and you wouldn’t know how to drive a car for that matter… however seeing you all go through the Madison parking lot makes me question that ability (but I would like to give a shout out to Mr. Fegley and Hutch for trying to make you guys better drivers).
But you do know how to do these things and it’s only because you kept trying and you weren’t overcome… by the fear of failure. Some of my former students may have heard me say this before but I believe it is truly how someone handles and responds to adversity and failure that defines that type of person they are to become.

Winston Churchill once said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Though Michael Jordan is best known for his 6 NBA championships and 5 MVP awards he also missed more than 9000 shots in his career, lost over 300 games and 26 times his team relied on him for the game winning shot only to have him miss … but he kept trying and I think we all know that he is remembered for much better things than those losses.

His philosophy? “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

I worry that people are afraid to fail, that society is afraid to let people fail and yes, parents, you too are too often afraid to let your children fail. To the parents in audience, I know, you have worked so long and so tirelessly helping your children succeed… but please know as they traverse out into the “real world” they will come across disappointments and struggles. How they handle these setbacks will give them all of the tools needed to become as successful as they want to be.

Abraham Lincoln once said “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

I can promise you this… when you become an old, old man like myself (or even older like Mr. Lingenfelter) …… when you sit back and think about disappointments or regrets in your life… it will not be things that you did not accomplish that will haunt you, rather it will be the chances that you did not take that you will remember. The opportunity to study overseas that you didn’t take advantage of, the job you didn’t even apply for or possibly the girl (or boy) that you watched from afar for all these years but never got the nerve to asked out.

Many of these things take just 20 seconds of true courage to achieve. Yes, I stole that from a movie, but let’s be honest there is just so much truth in it. Given that courage, which comes with being fearless about failure, you are capable of achieving truly amazing things.

The world’s greatest innovators and leaders are all familiar with failure and that’s what makes all their achievements so tremendous.

I know I’ve been talking a lot about taking chances and attempting things but unfortunately life isn’t always fair and sometimes it deals us some rough cards that force us to overcome tremendous adversity. I have been inspired so many times these last four years watching time and time again as you all overcame the various hardships that life as dealt you already. With that being said I cannot stand here today and not acknowledge that four years ago today, June 15th, there was a young 8th grade boy, fresh out of Thoreau MS, who sat in a doctor’s office and was told that he had a very rare form of cancer and that he might only have 6 months to live. But as I look out into the senior class and I see this young man, I am in awe and truly inspired by his courage and his ability to remain focused and determined as he battled a very rare form of cancer. Yet four years later, Scott, you are here, and I along with thousands of others are so, so thoroughly thrilled to watch you walk across this stage tonight.

To conclude, I will leave you with some final pearls of wisdom, consider them Buckley’s little bullet points:
1. The greatest form of wealth is with friends and family, stockpile them, appreciate them. Everything else is irrelevant if you have no one to share your successes with.
2. Be good to your teeth and your hair, otherwise someday they both might leave you.
3. Tip well – it is the greatest way to thank someone for a job well done and also an easy way to build good karma.
4. Keep yourself open to new experiences and new people. In two months when you venture off to college, boot camp or a new job you are very likely to meet your best friend for the rest of your life. I see you all looking at each other – “OMG – U R so my BFF”… meeting new people does not mean you need to discard former friends (remember point 1 – stockpile friends)
5. If possible, have a dog as a pet (no offense to cat people out there) but the truth is the unconditional love of a dog is like no other
6. And finally, be nice as often as possible. I know it’s virtually impossible to be nice 100% of the time but when you can it does really help make the world a better place. Say thank you and please, hold the door for people, give a polite wave when the car let’s you in in traffic and finally truly thank your family for supporting you all of these years. You may still have graduated but I promise you this long strange trip would not have been nearly as easy.

Now go forth and fail my friends… I know your failures will be few and your successes will be many.

Speech given by: Timothy Buckley to the 2012 graduation class of James Madison HighSchool