A Letter to Our Graduates: Never, Never, Never Give Up!

It seems surreal.  Her picture popped up in a text message.  With a huge smile on her face, her new hair styled perfectly, and her hand on her hip, she wanted us all to know she was ready for new student orientation at the local college.  The staff with her said, “She was so excited she literally squealed.”

Right before the holidays, I had a chance to speak at our second high school graduation for the year.  As I looked at our graduates from the stage, I could barely keep my emotions under control.  I kept reflecting back to when they first came to us.  Each girl had her own school scar she had to overcome.  One would get mad and shut down as she did math, refusing to discuss it until the day she finally admitted when she can’t get an answer she goes back to thinking “I’m stupid.”

Another girl came to class every day with her hoodie covering as much of her as possible and she would cover the rest of her face by setting with her head down.  Staff was quick to tell Annie, “She’s going to be a rough one.” Each day Annie would simply say “Thank you for coming to school today.”  One day, she realized she knew the answer and everything changed.

The ladies in front of me realized they were strong and capable and smart, and once they did we couldn’t set an expectation high enough!

I showed up on day to an announcement that they were watching Winston Churchill Documentaries, in their free time.  They had learned about him in school, so they wanted to know more.  I just thought, “This isn’t normal, but in a really great way!”  I then spent months laughing as the girls would quote Churchill in order to get away with cussing.

A few months later I showed up to work and there was a cardboard box in the middle of the sidewalk. As I reached down to pick it up, I realized there were other items attached to it and in the center was a hot-dog. When I asked about it, one of the ladies nonchalantly responded, “I built a solar oven. Now, I’m just waiting for a test dummy to show up and make sure it’s cooked.” I watched as she documented her observations in a scientific journal she designed, again, in her free time.  I shook my head and thought, “This isn’t normal, but in a really great way!”

I was shocked again when a girl became distraught when we couldn’t find the popsicle sticks.  She dramatically slammed her hand to her forehead and as she walked away I heard her say, “How else am I going to build Newton’s Cradle Pendulum.” I looked at our teacher completely confused.  I smiled as she was just as confused.  This wasn’t something she assigned, but something they were doing in their free time.  This isn’t normal, but in a really great way!

So as I stood before them on their graduation, and as I look at first day of college pictures, it was/is hard to know what to say.  It seems fitting to include Winston in this letter, so to our precious graduates, this is what I want you to know:

Never, never, never give up!  

As you step into this new season, remember to just keep moving. Step after step.  A colleague reminded me that our journey is a marathon and we often see and treat it as a sprint.  Take your time, breathe when needed, but never give up.

Continuous effort-not strength or intelligence-is the key to unlocking your potential.

There is no doubt that you are strong and brilliant, but the thing I admire most about you is that you continually chose to show up.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

You are now stepping from an amazing success into a scary unknown.  When I was younger, my dad use to tell me when you’re too scared to find courage by yourself, borrow it from someone you trust and love.  In the moments when you are struggling to find the courage you need face either striving for success or overcoming failure, remember the moment when an entire room stood up to remind you that they would walk with you in this journey and process.

If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that lost the future. 

Your past does not define you and it is no one’s job to hold it against you, or even to remind you.  Your job now is to strive for your future and to surround yourself with people who will challenge you to keep striving.

Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip!

You’re going to have moments when you’re going to tell people where to go.  You will be insulted, treated inappropriately, and misunderstood, but remember our conversation after the play when we chose the high road.  People are often ignorant camouflaged in cruelty.  You can be assertive AND kind!  It is possible to be both.

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it!

Go out and write your history!  Be the person that books are written about, legacies are developed from, and the person that causes others to shake their heads.  But, most importantly, be the person that inspires other young people to rise up and live!