Wednesday, May 21, 2014

School & Community, Then & Now

Stafford County, KS 8th Grade Graduates abt 1916
Isaac B. Werner was a bachelor without children, but he believed in the importance of education for the benefit of not only the students but also for the future of the nation.  My blog "Isaac Builds a School House," posted 10-11-2012 can be found in the archives, and if you missed reading it, I recommend a visit to learn about the emphasis early settlers placed on educating their children.

At the recent Commencement in my hometown, several graduating seniors were recognized for being the fifth generation in their families to have graduated from Macksville High School, and other graduates were the fourth generation of their families to receive a MHS diploma.  I was privileged to give the Commencement Address to the graduating class of 2014, and this week's blog post shares what I said to those seniors.

Graduates prepare to enter under championship banners
I began by emulating Baylor President Abner McCall's remarks to my law school class by reminding the graduates that while they were being honored for their achievement, it was important for them to recognize all of the people who had supported them in reaching this milepost in their lives.  That included not only family, teachers, and friends but also strangers who had bought tickets and cheered for them at school events, donated cakes and quilts to raffle, and held pancake breakfasts to raise money for scholarships, among the many other ways support had been given.  I suggested they stand and give their supporters a round of applause, and they obliged enthusiastically, something one of my friends called the best part of my speech, since remembering to say 'thank you' is an important lesson for all of us to learn!

I continued with this advice:  I am honored to have been asked to speak to you today, and I have given a great deal of thought to what I wanted to say.  I even went online to read some of the many examples of what others have said to graduating classes.  Honestly, I don't remember who delivered our Commencement Address, nor do I remember what advice was given to us.  I decided I would speak from my heart and share just three things that might be remembered to offer future guidance.

MHS Choir performs "Rhythm of Life"
First, Give Your Best.  In a world where too many people believe 'Close enough is close enough,' and are content doing just enough to get by, someone who is willing to do his or her best stands out.  That applies to jobs, friendships, family, and school.  You don't have to be a genius, but if you always give your best, you will be admired and respected.  Whatever you choose to do, you will succeed.

My second advice comes from a line in a movie.  It's just six simple words that I have never forgotten:  Character is the gift you give yourself.  There are variations of that same advice, such as 'Good Character is what you do when no one is looking' or 'Character is what lets you look at your face in the mirror every morning and feel good about yourself.'  

 You are about to start on a new life very different from what you have known.  Your family loves you and is proud of you, but they must be just a little concerned about how you will handle a life without their daily guidance.  You will truly have many opportunities to decide the right thing to do when no one is looking!  The choices you make will determine not only your future reputation but also how you ultimately feel about yourself.  Regardless of whether anyone else knows what you have done, character is the gift you give yourself.

The new friends you make as your high school friends scatter in different directions will have a lot to do with your choices.  Author Somerset Maugham offered some excellent advice:  "When you choose your friends, don't be shortchanged by choosing personality over character." 

Lyn Fenwick addresses 2014 MHS Graduates
My third and final advice is Know Yourself.  Whether you leave high school to start a new job or to continue your education, you will face so many new opportunities to grow and perhaps as many temptations to do just the reverse.  Most of us know the difference between doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing.  Where we get into trouble is when we think 'doing the wrong thing just this once' won't hurt anybody.

Here's what I ask myself when I am tempted to do something I know isn't quite right.  'If I tried it and didn't like it, what would have been the point?  If I tried it and did like it, I might make a problem for myself that I could have avoided.'

When I tell you to 'Know Yourself,' I don't mean that you should never change, because you should.  Learning doesn't stop when you leave school, and if each of us isn't learning something new every day, we just aren't trying.  But if you are true to yourself and are trying to become the person you truly want to be, you are far more likely to turn your back on the wrong things and grow as you experience right choices.

Class President addresses the class
You will make mistakes.  All of us do.  George Bernard Shaw said, "Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time." 

I'm going to take just a couple of minutes to tell you about my Macksville High School graduating class.  There were 19 of us.  One was a corporate executive who frequently attended meetings in the World Trade Center in New York City during the years before 9/11; One was an Air Force pilot who received one of our nation's highest honors, the Distinguished Flying Cross; One appeared before the United States Supreme Court; One became a doctor and was elected by his peers to head the Kansas Medical Association; One made his living as a barber who loved rodeo and won some prizes and awards competing in rodeos; One designed luxury interiors for expensive private airplanes; One was a court reporter.  Several served their country in the military; Several were teachers.  We worked in agriculture, offices, courtrooms and classrooms, businesses and hospitals.  We married, raised children, and most are now proud grandparents.

I share this with you because I want you to know what 19 kids sitting where you are now chose to do with their lives.  I hope their example will show that whatever you want to do is possible!

However, never forget that a successful life is more than your career, more than your immediate family--as important as those things are.  Everything that I have said applies equally to your service and generosity to your community, your country, and your respect for others in all areas of your life.  A life lived selfishly is rarely happy.

Family & Friends gather outside to offer congratulations
So, in conclusion, Congratulations!  The possibility for a great future is within your power.  No one succeeds without support from others along the way, and as you leave Macksville High School, never forget to express your appreciation and gratitude to those who help you reach your goals.  I sincerely believe that no one has to bend the rules or compromise their conscience to succeed--

Do Your Best,
Do it Because you Know it's the Right Thing to Do,
and Have Confidence in Who You Are!

Good Luck!

(Photo credits go to Larry Fenwick, to whom I have many reasons to say "thank you.")


The Blog Fodder said...

It is hard for me to imagine 5 generations graduating from the same highschool. People came...and stayed. Must be a good place.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful speech. I have heard Abner McCall give a eulogy and it was touching to see you refer to his words of admonishment and advice. He was a brilliant man. Loved your speech, what an honor to address those who come after you!

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Thank you for all the wonderful comments and "likes" at face book I am receiving. I have also received several personal e-mails and face-to-face compliments. Each one is appreciated. I did speak from the heart, and I hope the graduates were pleased with their commencement speaker.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

J.S. wrote: "We really enjoyed your message to graduates. I only wish your former classmates could have been there to see how you honored them, as well. One part that stuck out to me from the beginning was '...too many people believe "Close enough is close enough," and are content doing just enough to get by, someone who is willing to do his or her best stands out.' Very good advice, and I hope they took it to heart! I also thought the emphasis on character (that of yourself and that of the friends you choose) was great."