Almost exactly a year ago, I spoke at my high school graduation (Westmont High School Class of 2013!).
It was hot, it was gross, my shoes were ruined by the freshly painted stage and the astroturf – but President Obama was present for my speech.
Well, he flew over in Air Force 1 during my speech, but it still counts.
With everyone posting graduation pictures and sappy status updates about their years in high school, I started reminiscing a little bit. So here is my graduation speech from 2013 (thank you John Green for the inspiration!).
Class of 2013: Congratulations, to all of you. Revel in this moment – this is all for you.
Now, let me rain on your parade a little bit with some perspective. Some say that if you were to condense the entirety of human history onto a single timeline, it could be abridged to about 463 feet; that’s 100 feet longer than this football field. If you were to measure a human lifespan within those 463 feet, your life would measure to be only 2 inches, and the years we have spent at Westmont would calculate to only 1/8 of an inch.
Compared to the ever-increasing expanse of time, this is infinitesimal. Yet within these mere moments – this eighth of an inch of time at Westmont – I know my life has completely changed, as I know it has for many of you. The length of time I have spent on these grounds can be measured; but the joy I have felt, the laughter I have shared, the tears shed, the stress weathered, the wisdom gained, and the relationships forged can never be quantified or tallied. Thank you to all of those teachers and dear friends that have made my 1/8 inch so special and precious to me.
While this moment of graduation is one of reflection upon our time here, it is also an opportunity to look forward to the rest of our lives. Sorry to be the bearer of more bad news, but in our timeline of history, you have lived about a half an inch already and only have 1 and a half inches left to live. We have such a short time in existence, how can we make our lives count?
I guess I should first ask what is your definition of making it count? Do you want fame? Fortune? The pride of looking at an accomplishment and saying “I made that”? Those are all good things to strive for. Our graduation from Westmont marks our first step on our journey to reach those goals. Many of us are going off to college – that is another step toward achieving our goals.
As we strive to fulfill our dreams, there will be days of triumph, bliss, and joy awaiting us. But the reality check is that there will be days of failure, of realizing that your dreams were a bit far-fetched, when you look at your life and wonder how it will ever be significant.
If you find yourself thinking this way, I want you to look back to today: remember your family here celebrating you, the teachers who supported and inspired you, the friends that were always there for you. Remember: they are the ones who helped you get to this moment, they are the ones who made a difference. And as far as I can tell, their words are not plastered on billboards; their faces are not smiling from magazine covers. They are, quite literally, in the bleachers, not in the spotlight.
To quote one of my favorite authors, John Green, “We may be taught that the people to admire and emulate are actors and musicians and sports heroes and professionally famous people, but when we look at the people who have helped us, the people who actually change actual lives, relatively few of them are publicly celebrated. We do not think of the money they had, but of their generosity. We do not think of how beautiful or powerful they were, but how willing they were to sacrifice for us—so willing, at times, that we might not have even noticed that they were making sacrifices.”
Now, your wish may be to one day hear your name shouted from rooftops, but odds of that happening are slim. Making your life count does not mean striving for fame or fortune, though those may come along the way. Making your life count means being the person who has made a difference in another’s life.
On your personal journey to greatness, find time to develop your empathy, support those that are around you, and be the one people can count on. When the timeline reaches 600 feet in length, no one is going to remember those magazines and billboards. But the influence you can have on someone’s life now during your two inches impacts hundreds of others during their two inches, and so on and so forth, until you have influenced many feet of the timeline.
We have spent and eighth of an inch here together – 4 years filled with support and care of others. You have one and a half inches left; that is it.
Make it count. Go off and write the best novel ever, become a gold-medalist, invent the gadget that will set a new precedent in technology; but more importantly, be that shoulder to cry on, be that smiling face, be loyal, be honest, and be supportive.
Whether you have instant success or take years to decide what you will even do with your life, making your life count can start today.
As we continue down our different paths, we will look back at this moment as the starting line – the start to a new era of freedom and growth, but I hope you can also look at today as the day you decided to make it count.
Congratulations, class of 2013, and good luck with the rest of your two inches.
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