Superintendent Graduation Speech: 2016

Given May 25th, 2016 by Superintendent Tony Orr to the Hamilton graduating class of 2016.

Good evening parents, family, friends, staff, Board of Education, and most importantly, our graduates.  It has been my honor to have served as your superintendent this year. When I began working with Hamilton last April, I was told that it may be tough to get to know people, because I was an “outsider.”  However, I was never made to feel like one.  Truthfully, I want to thank you for embracing me, my wife, and our daughter.  You have welcomed us as neighbors.  And I do not take that lightly, because Hamilton is like where I grew up, a place where we take care of each other.  After all, Hamilton has to be the largest small town I have come to know. 

“Living in a small town…is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you.”― writes author Joyce Dennys.

Admittedly though, I have been focusing more and more on time.  Next January, I will have reached the half century mark of my life, which means that 31 years ago, I sat where you are sitting, ready for this ceremony to be over already so I could go to my party, see my family, and enjoy my freedom with my friends.  I know my parents were done raising me too, because for graduation they gave me luggage…already packed…placed at the end of the driveway.

But it all changed for me five years later when I was 23.  This is a story I frequently share, because it is my story.  As I get older I’ll likely tell it again and again, but I won’t remember doing so.  My dad, my best friend and advisor, died of cancer at the age of 51, slightly older than I am now.  For me that was my catalyst.  Before he passed, we walked together, he leaning heavily on me for support.  We talked about life, what he wanted for me, if he was scared.  It was on that day that I promised him I would graduate from college, the first one in our family. I shared I would graduate, take care of our family, and make him proud. 

I never looked back.  I went back to college, taking 18, 22, and 24 credit hours with special permission from the college.  A college advisor asked why I felt the need to push myself so quickly.  My answer and my message to you today…time.

We all have learned the math formula of D=RT…distance equals rate X time.  If a car is traveling at exactly 50 mph for one hour it has traveled a distance of 50 miles.  But what does that mean to us? 

Distance is how far you will travel.  Rate is the speed at which you accomplish your goals, but time is the slippery one, because we never truly know how much time we have.  We want to accomplish as much in the time we have been blessed with as possible.

Whether you are college bound, headed to trade school, or currently employed, the question you must answer for yourselves is what am I going to accomplish with the time I have?  How will I make difference? 

Honestly, no one can answer those questions for you.  You must travel the same road we have all traveled, determine your speed, watch out for obstacles, and determine what your destination will be.

But on your journey, besides time there is one final message I would ask you to consider.  You must decide who will travel with you.  When I was 18, I mistakenly believed that for me to be happy it was all about me.  Our lives are not about just us but who we share them with. Author Jon Krakauer says it best, “Happiness is only real when shared.” Life is about the relationships we build; they give our lives meaning. 

Cesar Chavez:  American labor leader and civil rights activist writes, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.

Graduates, here is your last long term homework assignment, one that I learned from church long ago.  We always called them action steps.

  1. Use your time wisely: Time is a gift.  So don’t waste it.   Take the time to work hard and play hard. Don’t waste time on anger. Use time to make a difference in your life and the lives of others.
  2. Keep Learning:  I’ve always believed the end goal of education was to prepare us to analyze a situation, review relevant information, and make an informed decision.  Instead we allow ourselves to be controlled by the media and those who control it.  I have observed that our decision making is now dichotomized; we only have two choices… You’re either a Republican or Democrat, pro gun or gun control, red state or blue state. There is no allowance for a gray area, no room for thinking on any subject.  It’s not that education is failing; we are failing as citizens when we allow this to happen…Or worse yet, when we perpetuate it. So I implore you graduates to keep reading, learning, and dare I say thinking.  Over time you might even learn that once you remove the emotion and drama, very little written on Facebook, Instagram, and social media is true.
  3. Work hard:  This world owes you nothing.  Very little is accomplished without shedding blood, sweat, and tears. 
  4. Build and maintain positive relationships:  The old country cliché is true; if you lie with dogs, you will get fleas. Michael Gartner, past journalist and president of NBC News writes, “Life is too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right. Forget about the ones who don’t. Believe everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it & if it changes your life, let it.” 

Graduates, I wish you all the best and may God bless you.