Where do they go from here?
The Fredrick News Post front page causes most politicians to hold their breath. We all walk out front, pick it up, pull open the plastic bag, and then squint to see if something we said or did worked its way through the editorial process and onto the front page.
Above the fold is typically bad, the good stuff usually falls below. The editorial page is even worse!
Last week was different from any other. Every day the paper featured the beautiful faces of our high schools seniors gathering with teachers, friends, classmates, and families at Mount Saint Mary's Knott Arena to celebrate that essential right of passage - high school graduation.
Last Friday, it was all over. Diplomas grasped firmly in hand, the Class of 2007 is be busy packing their swimsuits and suntan lotion for Senior Week, while the underclassmen prepare for a week of less-than-essential instruction.
Looking at those graduates' faces, one wonders about the future. Two weeks ago, I spoke to the Boonsboro High School National Honor Society during its annual induction dinner. These speeches are worrisome; you want to be memorable but not shocking; informative, but without boredom. A speechwriter's classic conundrum!
Here are some excerpts from those remarks:
As you heard during my introduction, I'm in politics. Unfortunately, politicians are not the best people to speak about achievement, at least not in the way I'm going to speak to you tonight.
People a lot smarter than I have written extensively on the subject of achievement. The books on personal achievement fill the shelves at the library and bookstores.
One common theme seems to connect these various works. We used to measure success and achievement based on what we had, our bank account, personal possessions, and lifestyle.
Politicians view getting votes as the goal; and every action they take is geared towards that outcome. They fail to grasp the larger meaning, that by taking risks and demonstrating courage, they may gain even greater respect and more votes.
A more modern view of success seems to focus on who we are, not what we have.
So, who are you, and how do you want to be evaluated by others?
Sitting here in this room tonight may be a writer who will pen a Pulitzer-winning novel. Maybe a Tony award-wining actress, or a Nobel Prize winner. One of you might find a cure for a terrible disease, or invent some time-saving gadget that everyone will want to own.
What I know is that this room is filled with people who have made a conscious choice, a choice to sacrifice time and self-indulgent pleasure to achieve a personal goal of academic accomplishment.
Your induction into the National Honor Society marks a step along your journey, a waypoint of achievement on a map whose course is not yet charted.
It's not so much about what you've already accomplished; your ability to achieve great things will be about the choices you make moving forward.
Most people operate with the following mental model: they see themselves in the middle, with success on one end and failure on the other. They do everything they can to move toward success and away from failure.
What if, rather than seeing failure as something to be avoided it became a "stepping-stone" on the path to success? In other words: Success is the destination. Failure is how you get there. To achieve significant success in today's world, failure is not just a possibility... it is a requirement.
If we fear failure, we do so at the risk of greater success. Larry Bird shot literally millions of free throws to develop his almost automatic skills at the foul line in the NBA. Hundreds of thousands of those shots missed their mark, but the process of taking them created great success later on.
So, feel free to fail, just remember that you have to learn from your failure and acknowledge that your failure is simply a part of the process to achieve greater success.
Another critical aspect of achieving success is to find your passion, those pursuits and interests that inspire you and create that burning in your soul. When I was in high school, I discovered the theater. I was given a role in the Junior/Senior. play, a comedy called The Savage Dilemma.
On opening night, I was terrified. Ten minutes before the curtain rose, I could have sworn I had forgotten my lines.
As I walked on stage, it all came flowing back. The sound of the audience laughing at my first funny line was the most powerful sound I had ever heard, filling every inch of my being with a power I could not describe.
As much as I enjoyed that experience, and as personally rewarding as it was, I walked off that stage and never pursued that interest again for 20 years.
It wasn't until 1996 that I tried out for a show called Arsenic and Old Lace with the Brunswick Community Theater. That experience re-ignited my passion for live theater, for the thrill of an audience's laughter and applause.
Since then, I've been in productions in Brunswick, at the Old Opera House in Charles Town, West Virginia and the highlight two years ago when I performed on stage at the Weinberg Center in Frederick.
Theater does several things for me. It forces me to use a portion of my brain that we rarely exercise, the ability to memorize hundreds of lines for instant recall, hopefully, at least.
It enables me to become part of a team, a team of performers, technicians, and support personnel. Not to mention the ego bonus for a good performance.
There is a major risk component, though. When you're standing onstage, and there are 800 people in the audience, and they've paid upwards of $15 per ticket, failure comes at a dear cost.
As you continue on your journey, and strive to add to your already impressive list of achievements, remember to listen to your muse AND your brain. If you love poetry, read and write poetry. If you draw or paint, keep a brush or pen nearby. If you sing, keep singing. If sports are your passion, keep playing.
The people in this room and the people in your life are immensely proud of you tonight. You have our respect, our love - and our prayers - for a full and rewarding life.
So, go out there, take some risks, fail and learn, and strive to find your passion. A full and rewarding life is more important than a big bank account, and your achievements will grow proportionately to the distance you put between yourself and lowered expectations.
The message that night was fairly simple: Take some chances, and keep doing those things that you truly enjoy. The Class of 2007 in Frederick County is no different. The future is laden with promise and possibility, the only question is whether these fine young adults will be able to take some risks and take advantage of the opportunities that await a risk-taker.
For my money, I'm betting that they can, and will!