by Dr. William A. Pope
Throwback with TODAY
Commencement Address: June 8, 1997
By Dr. William A. Pope
August 1997; pages 46&47
Four years ago I gave a commencement address to the Class of 1993, the class of which my oldest son, Ryan, was a part. I waited 18 years to give that speech. I can honestly say to the Class of 1997 and especially to my youngest son, Adam, that I have waited even longer to give this one.
There is something very special for a superintendent or any teacher who has a child in the graduating class. I want to thank Adam for allowing me to be part of the learning and the fun that he has enjoyed in his years in Upper St. Clair. I know that many times it has been difficult to be related to me, but most of the memories that I have are special to me now and will be special to me for the rest of my life. They will keep me involved even though I will no longer have children of my own in the graduating classes I may address in the future.
My speech today will have a similar theme to the one I gave in 1993. That is, some thoughts I want to share with you before you leave the field today. I hope I am speaking not just for Kim and me, but for all of the parents and grandparents who are sitting out there watching you, the last graduating class prior to the renovation in Upper St. Clair.
Let me begin by thanking Nancy Kilbane, one of our middle school teachers, for giving me a copy of a book titled, Hold Fast Your Dreams, a compilation of twenty-one commencement speeches. I read all of them and was inspired to include many references from the 21 speeches in my speech for today.
My memories of the Class of 1997 started eight years ago in Deer Valley. One of the most special times that a parent has with a child was even greater for me, because Adam was my first child to go through the Deer Valley experience. I can remember us sitting in the woods at Deer Valley on our magic spot. I have very fond memories of building a bird house, a terrarium, taking a wonderful night walk, and seeing the stars and constellations as adults and students, parents and children, together in a most meaningful way. In fact, in many ways that was the last time that we talked with each other as equal learners. Since that time, I have been trying to give you the benefit of my wisdom, experience and advice, and you have been patient in allowing me to preach and actually convinced me on occasion that you were interested and listening. Well, let's agree that today I will express my thoughts and feeling on behalf of your Mom and me and all of the parents, and you will humor me by listening on behalf of all the students.
Thought number one is that it is a very different world you are about to enter than the one that I graduated into in 1964 and even the one that your brother graduated into in 1993. We have never been more culturally diverse. The new movement toward multi-culturalism is long overdue. As you look around this class and as you look around the world you are about to enter, make it a point to honor all of the differences that make America truly the land of the free. In the words of the late Arthur Ashe, "Do not treat minorities paternalistically or patronizingly now. Do not view them any longer as an accessory like a belt of a scarf that adds just a bit of color to the ensemble." The lesson for today in 1997 is obvious, only tolerance and inclusion can be the answers. I am so optimistic about the future because of the children sitting before me today. I don't see the baggage of racial, religious, and ethnic prejudice that plagued my generation evident in the students graduating today. I see and feel comfort and compassion among the students in this class. It was evident with Changes, the partnership with the students from Brashear High School. It was evident with Link, the partnership with the School for Blind Children, with the Unified Sports Program, the Youth Day of Caring, the Special Olympics, the work on Habitat for Humanity and countless other examples of the closeness among you and a genuine acceptance and inclusion. Replace the baggage of the past that created divisiveness and hatred with that of love, a love that will unite all of us who share the same dreams and hopes, and our greatest need will be to help each other be happy and successful.
There is a story of the man who was granted permission to see both heaven and hell while he was still alive. He made a deal with this angel. He decides to see hell first. He goes down with the angel and they open up this big door and they look inside. It is a beautiful banquet hall, and down the middle is this long banquet table with people seated on either side, with every imaginable delicacy in bowls and platters all along the whole table. He is puzzled to see that the people there are wailing and crying and they are in misery. He looks a little closer and he sees that the handles on their eating utensils are so long that it is impossible to get the good into their mouths. Depressed and with a heavy heart he asked to go see heaven.
They go over, they open up a door that looks pretty much the same and it is just about the same scene- a huge banquet hall, table down the middle, people seated on both sides. The table is laden with every imaginable delicacy. The greatest food you have ever seen in your life. He looks and sees that the handles on the utensils are also really, really long. But these people are laughing and singing and rejoicing. He looks closer and see that the people in heaven, instead of trying to feed only themselves, were feeding each other.
Thought number two, make it a point to stay in touch with your best friends from high school. Find them today and make it a point to assure one another that you will in touch regardless of where you find yourself next year and in the future. Don't wait for the first reunion to find your best friends. Cathy Guisewite, who is the author of the Cathy comic strip, in her commencement speech to a graduating class at the University of Michigan said, " Look at what you love on graduation day. Take the classes, the friends, and the family that have inspired the most in you. Save them in your permanent memory and make a backup disk. When you remember what you love you will remember who you are." If you remember who you are, Adam, you can do anything.
Number three, I don't think there is a question that an adult ever asked a teenager that could be answered with the single word, "whatever." Please promise never to answer your parents' questions with "whatever."
Fourth thought, borrowing words from Marian Wright Edelman, who is the founder of the Children's Defense Fund, "I wish that your generation will raise your sons to be fair to other people's daughters." I am the father of two sons, and I want them to share, not just help, with parenting responsibilities, which include buying cool tennis shoes, teaching children to drive the family car, selecting a college, and deciding where to go to dinner before the prom.
Speaking of parenting responsibilities, while we are on that subject, let me offer another observation. Adam, there is only one truly pretty child in the world, and every mother has her. As you leave here today you may begin to search for your future partner. Remember, "men always want to be a woman's first love; women have a more subtle instinct: what they like is to be a man's last romance." Before you ask anyone to marry you, remember what Margaret Mead, world renowned anthropologist told us, "Marriage worked well in the 19th century because people only lived to be 50." Ms. Mead's warning to the contrary, I believe that marriage and children are well worth taking a risk. If you parents didn't agree with that, and my parents before them, none of us would be here today. That is a really important thought, anything that is worthwhile doing is going to require a risk. Neal Simon once noted, "Don't listen to those who tell you not to take a risk. If Michelangelo did not take a big risk, he would have painted the floor of the Sistine chapel, not the ceiling, and it would surely have been rubbed out by now." Risk is part of experience. Risk is part of growth. Risk is part of success. Taking a risk is what we have prepared you to do. We hope we have prepared you to take that chance before you leave here today. Not the risk of getting married, but the risk of graduating from high school, getting started with your life and letting you mother and I get a new start with ours.
One thing you can be sure of, Adam, is that you are the same person today as you will be five years from now except for two things, the people you meet and the books you read. Remember that. Try to meet as many people as you can. Read constantly. Remeber that the book is still the greatest man-made machine of all. Not the car, not the TV, not even Nintendo. The Book.
Another thought - whatever you do in life, do it with passion. The world is filled with many talented and gifted people who have failed because the lack passion. Passion is a flame which burns so hot it cannot be extinguished by despair, misfortune, or not being at home when your girlfriend calls. Remember that any idea or thought, regardless of how novel and awe inspiring, without passion will remain simply an idea or thought. You are no different from the graduate sitting next to you who might be the one to solve the world's energy problems, of the one to find a cure for cancer, of the one to bring about the most important changes yet in human rights. You are no different from the one in front of you who might inspire your children with his or her brilliant teaching. You must have passion to make those kinds of changes, to make that kind of impression, to make that kind of impact. Be passionate. You have to care.
In summary, let me thank the graduates of 1997, and especially Adam, for allowing me to be a part of your life. While you may not remember this day, I will never forget it. This is a very special day for all of us parents and grandparents. This is the day when we promise you unconditional love and nothing you can ever do or say will diminish that love.
Let me finish with this simple poem from a book I found in San Francisco called For My Son. Remember, we gave it to you for Valentine's Day in 1994:
Remember son, if you are a success
I'll be as happy as can be
Remember, too, that when you fail
You can always come to me
There is little in life we cannot share
We'll share the bad times, too
For my love has no condition, son
That's what I give to you
That unconditional love should guarantee me at least one hug when you come through the line to get your diploma.
On behalf of everyone here, thank you for a wonderful day. Remember the great thing about the future is is happens one day at a time. Let's make today the very special first day of all of our futures. Congratulations.