The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight.
But they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
OK, so neither my high school nor my collegiate alma mater has begged me to speak at commencement exercises this spring, so I’ll have to make do from my newsprint podium.
Actually, I really just want to give a little speech to one girl I know who graduates from high school this year. The rest of you can tune me out. This is for Tammy (not her real name).
I’m not using Tammy’s real name, but Tammy is real, all right. She’s a kid in the crack, halfway between having someone who cares and having no one who cares. She gets no help from her selfish parents, whose efforts at role models have been pathetic. One is a nasty drunk; the other just could never cope with the responsibilities of parenthood. Tammy doesn’t even live at home anymore.
She’s wrestled more with life by age 18 than the rest of us have by age 30.
Right now, Tammy is crawling out of the crack and stepping into a world of her own making. No one ever cared if she did her homework or skipped school or brought home bad or incomplete grades. Neither did Tammy, until a passerby reached down in the crack and gave her a hand. She ended her final semester of high school on the honor roll and is headed to a technical school this fall.
I’m not even sure I have anything to say to Tammy that can make a difference, but here goes…
You made it! I am so proud of you, more than you will ever know.
Life has been downright crummy to you so far. You’ve already learned what some people never do: that life’s not fair and only you can control your attitude and response to what life deals you.
As a teen-ager, you’ve already learned pro basketball coach Pat Riley’s philosophy that “self pity and sympathy are junk food. They offer no nourishment and you still get hungry quickly.”
“The only difference between a stumbling block and a stepping stone is the way you use them.” (OK, so I read that on a restaurant coaster somewhere.)
Don’t look back. You have lots of reasons to blame others for how you turn out, but don’t. You can control what goes on in your head.
College will be tough. Friends will try to lure you into partying when you should be studying. Money will be tight, although that’s nothing new to you. Some classes will be difficult; some profs will be horrible.
But opening the next chapter of your life will also be wonderful. “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” (I saw that on a T-shirt once.) You are taking the first step, and that’s more than some 2001 high school graduates can say.
You’re bright, hard-working, funny and talented. Take this advice from former Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero: “Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.”
Do what the world tells you you can’t do.