Stonington High School Class of 2008
June 18, 2008
Good afternoon. I want to say thank you to the class of 2008 for the great honor you have given me today in asking me to be a part of your commencement. Last year I had the privilege to come back to SHS and work with a large part of this class when they were Juniors, and I have to say that this class is an example of the best of the human spirit at work. You are as dedicated to contributing to this community as any group I have ever worked with and because of that I know you will go far.
Before I address the class of 2008 I would like to give all of you in the audience a bit of history regarding my relationship with this outstanding group of individuals.
My experience working with this class of 2008 was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had while working for Special Olympics Connecticut. The dedication and compassion that these students put forth in planning the First Special Olympics Event ever held in the town of Stonington was nothing short of spectacular.
When I came here and invited the Stonington High students to get involved with Special Olympics they agreed and simply took my word for the fact that this would be a life changing experience for them. Many of these students had never been around people with disabilities, never mind the added uncertainty of hosting a full day event for 350 athletes, of all ages, with intellectual disabilities. These students accepted an enormous challenge and I believe they are better prepared for life because of it.
Over 200 students form this school volunteered for the Special Olympics Track and Field event in 2007 and in 2008. Many more students participated in other community building events such as the Leslie Buck Walk, The Relay for Life, Stonington COMO Leadership and many activities with Stonington Human services and I believe that as a class they have shown themselves to be good people with the grace and the power to make a difference.
Margaret Mead is quoted as saying:
Don’t ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
I believe she was right.
So today I get to address a small group of thoughtful people who have the power to change the world: The Stonington High School Class of 2008!
As you all head off on your life’s journey I have a few lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to offer you to add to your back-pack of life:
Number one and MOST important:
Be Polite: Treat all people with dignity and respect and they will in turn treat you well. And if they don’t, well, at least you will know you walk on the high road and that is a good place to be.
Be yourself: Sing, dance, be silly. Laugh. Even when you’re not supposed to…that’s always more fun anyway!
Trust your instincts: Trust them as much as you trust your sense of sight and sound. If something doesn’t feel right to you that’s because it usually isn’t.
Remember there are no failures, just bad experiences that you learn your most important life lessons from.
And finally, be grateful. I met a beautiful woman last month who lost everything she ever owned in the big fire in Norwich. And although she was wearing borrowed clothes and had no items to prove her existence of 64 years (and no insurance to replace them), she had a beautiful smile on her face. It was clear that she remembered to be grateful for the life that God gave her.
So now it is time to begin your journey. I hope each of you know that you have important work to do. Each of you has a purpose on this earth and it is very important that you follow the road that you are meant to. Some of you have very specific goals lined up, others of you have no idea what comes next. The truth is, finding your way on this path in life will most likely be very complicated. Who will you be? What will you do? Who will you love? Where will you live? When will you be successful?
If you take only one piece of advice from me today, please make it this one…
Each and every one of you will find your true purpose in life through GIVING. Whether you are heading off to college, working in a trade or a local business I ask you today to find the time to give.
I believe you invited me here today because we shared a beautiful experience together while giving our time and talents to ensure that 350 Special Olympic Athletes had an opportunity to experience joy. Did any of you notice that the real magic happened when you believed you were giving but the real gift was the feeling you received. I did. Some of you felt joy, some felt accomplishment, maybe some of you felt grateful. Whatever the feeling was it is certain that it caused you to grow and you are a better person because of it.
I encourage every one of you to continue on this path of giving. You see, when you truly give from your heart you find out WHO YOU ARE and what you are supposed to do in this life…
You may volunteer at a hospital and learn that you are supposed to be a nurse or a doctor.
You may volunteer to run a marathon for breast cancer and learn that you are supposed to work on finding the cure.
You may volunteer to spend time with our wise and wonderful elders at a nursing home and learn that you are supposed to be the person that will change our current health care system.
You may volunteer to help save the rainforest and you just might learn that you are the one who is supposed to invent a new alternative energy.
Take the time to give…
You say you will have such a high powered job making millions that you will not have time to volunteer? That’s ok. Then I say, integrate philanthropy into the fabric of your corporation. Be a powerful donor to worthy organizations and teach your employees to do the same. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy that can only be received through GIVING.
Before I send you off today to start your life as caring, giving, productive members of society I would like to invite a friend of mine up to the podium.
Please welcome our special guest. Scott is a Special Olympic Athlete and Global Messenger for our great cause. Scott was here for our first ever special Olympic Stonington High School Track & field Event in 2007. And he will have the opportunity to continue to compete at this world class high school because of all of you and the road you paved for him and other special athletes like him.
So today, I received special permission to have Scott lead all of you in the oath that we recite every time we bravely prepare to enter competition. Today, Scott will lead you as you bravely prepare to enter your new life:
Please repeat after Scott:
Let me win…But if I can not win….let me be brave in the attempt!
At this point we usually say Let the Games begin; but today we declare …Let your new Lives Begin!!!