Good Evening, Mr. Hayden, Mrs. Marston, Invited guests and NHS members new and old…It is a privilege to speak with you tonight. This evening should be about you and so I would like to share my hopes, dreams and expectations for you.
The Officers have shared their thoughts on each of the four characteristics on which your acceptance into the National Honor Society was based. I, too, would like to share some of my thoughts regarding those same four characteristics.
To me, scholarship, which is based on a God given gift – your intelligence – is the characteristic over which you have the least control…I don’t deny that each of you works very hard and uses this God given ability to achieve academic success. But you and I also know students who work as hard or harder than you who will never know the academic success and recognition that we celebrate here tonight. Please remember to thank God for that gift and continue to work hard. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and perhaps risk failure – remember sometimes we learn more from failure than from success. It might be beneficial if each one of you at some point in your high school career experiences failure or disappointment – because when that happens you will be surrounded by the people who love you and who will help you discover the skills that you will need to rise above that failure or disappointment. I don’t want that first taste of failure or disappointment to occur when you are far away from your natural support system. A skill that is sorely needed in today’s world is the ability to think critically – to hear both, or more, sides of an issue; to evaluate each side; and to decide the truth of that issue. The lessons of hard-work, discipline, critical thinking and perseverance are great foundations for Leadership.
Leadership can be a very subtle characteristic. When I read your self- described leadership activities, I thought how obvious some of these activities were – Captains of teams, Class Officers, School Ambassadors – but then I read between the lines and discovered the hidden leadership activities – the students who lead a class discussion, who are the first to volunteer and whose actions encourage others to become involved – the quiet word spoken to a fellow student who is having a bad day. There is not one kind of leadership or one type of leader – but the real leader rises to the occasion. Have you noticed the poster in the stair well outside the cafeteria with the words of Maya Angelou? She is quoted as saying, ”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you made them feel” Is this what real leadership is about?
In whatever ways you lead, service will follow.
The characteristic of service is something very concrete….your service activities took you from this building to Costa Rica and Thailand and places in between. You did everything from cleaning beaches to building homes. You participated in large scale service projects and you were very successful. But are you learning the lesson that service is an everyday happening - performing acts of service should fill our days? Holding the door for a classmate or faculty member, picking up the papers that fall to the floor, wiping down the table in the cafeteria, greeting people with a good morning – these are the services that should fill our day. We should remember that all service is rooted in the Gospel mandate to “love one another” and that Jesus has told us that what we do for the least of His brothers and sisters we do for Him.
And this brings us to Character – in my opinion the most important and in some ways the hardest to explain or to define. Does a person demonstrate good character without having good character? What do we mean when we say some one is a good person or a person of good character? Maybe each of us means something different. I think a good person or a person of character is someone who can be counted on to do the right thing – as some have said – whether someone is watching or not. The good person is one who follows the rules at home, in school, at work and in the wider society. The good person understands responsibility and makes the hard choices between what he or she wants to do and what he or she needs to do. Develop a system of values and beliefs and never compromise those values and beliefs. The person of character is recognized by an attitude of gratitude rather than entitlement. This gratitude begins by acknowledging and thanking your parents and other family members who have sacrificed much for you to be where you are this evening. Gratitude should be given to teachers who have helped you along the way and in a special way gratitude should be given to those teachers who always held you to a higher standard and pushed you beyond your comfort zone. Sometimes it is hard to understand that those who push the hardest are those to whom we owe the most.
In conclusion, when developing those values and beliefs and deciding what path your life and career will take, be sure to focus on what it means to be a good person – how you define being a good person. Remember you will more often than not meet someone who is a little smarter than you – someone who is a stronger leader – someone who has completed greater service projects – but make it your primary goal that you will never meet someone who is kinder, more grateful, more compassionate, or more empathic than you.
Congratulations and God Bless.