Tim Luckenbaugh delivered this speech at the 2014 Convocation ceremony, which celebrated the Class of 2014 graduates and all they accomplished during their time at the Academy.
Lee, one of my favorite people ever, asked me to speak this evening, but it dawned on me the other day – when Lee and LeeTal burst into my room, smiling and reminding me of my commitment to speak this evening – that this might not be the speech you’re all expecting. I’m not going to tell stories about you nor am I going to sing your praises. What I am going to say is that I’ve enjoyed getting to know those of you I’ve had the opportunity to teach. I won’t mention each of you by name since I haven’t had all of you in class, and it wouldn’t be fair to mention something lovely about some, but not all. So I’m not gonna. Instead, at the risk of this little speech sounding like an enormous ball of cliché, I’ve decided to embrace the tradition of someone a generation or two removed from his intended audience… and bore the members of said audience with my advice, which will come to you, class of 2014, in the form of a numbered list of fairly serious imperatives.
Number one: Be discerning.
Stay awake. Pay attention so that you can discern who the high-caliber people are. These people will be all around you if you are present in your life and are paying attention. They’re at work, at school, at home, in the coffee shop, in your neighborhood, they’re your parents’ friends, your relatives. Some of them you’ve already met. Discern what characteristics make these people quality human beings. How do they react to setbacks? How do they carry themselves? How do they interact with others? What do they talk about? What are they interested in? What do they listen to? Who are their friends? What do they read? What movies do they watch? How do they spend their free time? What do they eat? How do they treat strangers? How do they treat the people they know?
When you figure out who these people are and why you’re drawn to them, emulate them. Copy some of their behavior. Read some of the things they read. Talk the way they talk. Be interested in the things they’re interested in. Aspire to have the same kinds of friends, aspire to be like them. These people will almost always be older than you. That’s because they’ve had years and sometimes decades worth of experiences and people in their lives to help them craft, establish and hone their identities… becoming you is a process. These people will help teach you how to be you. They can teach you who you are and who you aren’t. Learn from them. Be discerning.
Number two: Read.
Why read? Harold Bloom attempts to answer this question in his book “How To Read and Why”. He writes the following in the preface:
“We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or disappear, overcome by space, time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life.”
You will all spend more of your life not working than working. And reading will help you to fill that time meaningfully.
Reading will fill your heart and heal you, your mind, and teach and inspire you, your soul. A book, an essay, a poem, a paragraph, a sentence can change your life. As it did mine. Reading will make you more interesting at parties….when you’re older. Reading will keep you company. Read!
Number three: Be willing to be uncomfortable.
Spend time in a culture whose language you don’t speak or aren’t yet fluent in. Hang out with folks with whom you’re not necessarily comfortable. Live for a time in a culture that disorients you. Leave your comfort zone. Be okay with not being comfortable. Thus your insecurities will emerge and you will be forced to come to grips with them. It’s hard; at times it’s downright frightening. It’s the only way you grow. And you will be a better – a stronger! – person because of it. Be willing to be uncomfortable.
Number four: Be prepared.
Be ready at a moment’s notice to produce a Tide to Go stain stick for someone with a stain. Keep one in the pencil cup on your desk in your dorm. In your messenger bag. In your pocket. In your backpack. In your man bag. In your glove compartment.
It might mean the difference between breaking the ice or never meeting the good-looking guy or girl sitting next to you in the dining hall, or in another place where there’s sure to be spillage and spots: coffee, half and half, chocolate, tomato sauce, something with melted cheese, vinaigrette, butter. Trust me. Life is made up of stains. A Tide to Go stain stick will make you important and popular. Be prepared.
Number five: Live well. Live carefully. Live honestly.
Live in moderation. Eat well and thoughtfully, which means eat good, whole food and know something about its origins. Watch your cholesterol. Drive the speed limit. Make sure you’re driving when you’re driving and not using an electronic device. This is how you’ll live long enough to realize your potential, your goals, and be able to take care of your parents when they need you. Don’t cheat. The people who matter most won’t respect you. Live well. Live carefully. Live honestly.
And finally, perhaps most importantly, number six: Check your actions.
The world is full of suffering. Make sure you check everything you do – the small – but also and especially the moderate to big things, the things that carry real weight and consequence. Check those actions with this question: Will what I’m about to do increase the suffering of other people? If the answer is maybe. Think again.
Always. Always. Always. Always… err on the side of kindness. Err on the side of reason. Err on the side of peace. Because – ultimately – your success and your happiness are measured by the relationships you forge with your fellow human beings.
You know, this isn’t the first happy convocation of the year. You’ve all been convening outside my door – mostly happily – every morning all year long, sitting on that bench across from your lockers, or on the floor, or leaning against your lockers. I listened to you come together as a class everyday. You greeted each other every morning, you laughed, you told jokes, you gossiped, you collaborated, you made plans, you grumbled (a lot) and complained, you supported each other. All of that despite your differences. You’ve forged wonderful relationships with each other and the faculty because you had to. We’re a little school. Do the same thing in the larger world outside of Harrisburg Academy.
Class of 2014, make this world better! Make it kinder. Make it smarter. Make it peaceful. And in the process you will live a very good life. Thank you. And congratulations Class of 2014.