Friday, July 10, 2015

Class of 2015

Today, I had the awesome privilege of being the keynote at a high school graduation.  I told the graduates naturally, they would feel like it was “over” or they finally “finished”.  Then, I broke the bad news.  I told them it was only the beginning.  High school graduation ends the K-12 chapters of our lives, and begins our journey to who we will be in, and what we will contribute to, the world. I told the graduates they needed to be prepared, purposeful, predictable, and persistent.  These are things we must tell every young person, especially those getting ready to embark upon the adult world, start new chapters, travel new roads, and open new doors. Each of them has his/her own path.  Some will go on to college. Some will seek a trade.  Some will jump right into the workforce.  And, some will simply enjoy summer and figure it out afterwards.  Either way, education is the key that unlocks the doors of opportunity and high school graduation is the first key. 

I told the graduates to be prepared for the world that is waiting for them. It may not always greet them with open arms. It may not always make them feel as if they belong. I was honest with them and told them it can be COLD and CRUEL.  But, I also reminded them that they had within them everything they needed to change it. I told them everything that everyone had invested in them up to this point prepared them for the challenge.  Their parents instilled core values and guiding principles in them, and they shall act as their compass.  Their family and extended family helped them establish a sense of pride of self and culture, and that shall be their strength. And lastly, their community was telling them it believed in them and needed them to succeed, and that shall be their motivation.

I told them to be purposeful. Don’t waste time, because they could never get it back.  I then told them to wake up every day and remind themselves that if it doesn’t have purpose, it’s not worth their time.  I read something online and it said, “do something today that your future self will thank you for”.  I told them to take time to smell the roses, live, love and laugh, but always remember every choice is a seed and time is the soil.  I asked them “What are you planting? What harvest will you reap in five and ten years.” 

Then I told them to be predictable in the way that their generation is known for being rebels and forward thinkers.  They are called Generation Y, the Millennials, and Generation Me. I told them to use who they were to change the world.  I encouraged them to be rebels for causes.  There are tons of causes that need them.  I could have been cliché-ish and said they need to end world hunger or discover the cure for cancer. Although either or both of those would be great, instead, I reminded them of some causes closer to home: justice, equity, economic empowerment, community revitalization, affordable housing, innovation in agriculture, and youth and young adult civic engagement. Each of these causes need forward thinking rebels.  I challenged them to be rebels and be forwarding for causes that are important to them. Generation Me usually refers to the concept that their generation feels entitled.  However, for me, Generation Me brings to mind the famous quote, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”  If the educated, youthful, intelligent, current and future leaders are not going to change this world, then who will. Generation Me can be redefined to mean they accept their responsibility and part in changing their communities, cities, states, countries, or world.

Lastly, I told them to be persistent.  Anything worth having, takes hard work.  There will be naysayers, but I told them to be persistent and do not let others’ criticisms distract them from their purpose.  There will be challenges and hurdles, but I told them to be persistent and do not turn around and do not give up.  Sometimes they will need to regroup, re-strategize, re-evaluate, and re-position themselves, and that’s okay, but we must encourage them to keep going.  It will always be easier to give up, but I encouraged them not to do so.

I ended my speech by reciting the poem I tell my grandson daily, “Hey Black Child” by Eugene Perkins.   When I read it, I changed “Hey Black Child” to “Hey Graduate”, but this poem applies to ALL children, youth, and young adults:

Hey Black Child,
Do you know who you are?
Who you really are?
Do you know you can be
What you want to be?
If you try to be
what you can be.

Hey Black Child,
Do you know where you’re going?
Where you’re really going?
Do you know you can learn
What you want to learn?
If you try to learn
What you can learn?

Hey Black Child,
Do you know you are strong?
I mean really strong?
Do you know you can do
What you want to do?
If you try to do
What you can do?

Hey Black Child,
Be what you can be
Learn what you must learn
Do what you can do
And tomorrow your nation will be what you want it to be.

Congratulations to Class of 2015. I pray I have more opportunities to do what I love….ENCOURAGING OTHERS.