A good friend recently asked me if I could give him some ideas for a commencement address he was to give at the high school in his hometown. He is a very successful executive and has attained a reputation not only for his integrity and honesty but also his dedication to his company, his colleagues and his deep feelings about the healthcare industry.
I sent him some of my thoughts and also would like to share them with you, for they carry resonance even for those of us for whom high school was something we left behind a long time ago.
Here is what I would tell the graduates:
Congratulations on your major achievement. For each of you this day is the start of something different, as different as each of you are as individuals. Many of you will go on to college, others will join a branch of the military and still others will start your work lives.
Whatever you choose to do, you are about to embark on a journey filled with opportunity and promise. After all, in the United States of America you are free to be just about anything you want to be.
I remember being in your shoes with the conflicting emotions you probably are feeling. Your friends, the people you have shared your lives with, are heading off in different directions. There are the teachers who guided you who will be left behind.
Soon, you will leave your parents for the first time to be out on your own. After this ceremony, some of you will never see each other again. Take the time to say goodbye.
There is the excitement of new challenges. For those going on to college, a new set of friends, ideas and experiences awaits.
A good friend of mine once told me that the three most important priorities in life are love of family, love of friends and love of work. I can attest to you that those are the three things I treasure most. Notice that common word, love. It's so important in everything we do in life. The longer I am on this earth the more I realize how critically important it is to have love in your life, to love life itself and to feel passionate about what you are doing.
This attitude toward life can and must be cultivated if you are to succeed out there in the world. I always have treasured the words of theologian Charles Swindoll: "The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home.
"The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes."
And so are you. One attitude to cultivate is to always respect the needs of others. Treating everyone with dignity and respect is essential for productive living, whether it be at work or anywhere else you deal with others. Good manners are a big part of respect. Say "please" and "thank you" when asking for assistance.
Be forthright and honest in everything you do. Don't follow the crowd on ethics. Your integrity is the most valuable thing you will have throughout your life and to lose that would be a disaster. Believe in yourself and what you stand for and don't be afraid to be principled in everything you do.
In fact, march to the beat of your own drummer for everything. Follow your own dreams and make your own decisions about what you do for a living, what organizations to join, what friends to make, what goals to pursue.
Don't be afraid of making mistakes. You learn far more from mistakes than from those situations where you happen to get something right the first time. We live in a society where everyone panics if they do something wrong, not realizing they have opened up the possibility of really gaining some insight into things.
Finally, let me leave you with some advice from someone who believes he has been the luckiest person in the world. As you begin a new adventure, judge your success by the degree you are enjoying peace, health and love.
Without any one of them life seems empty. Winning a sporting event, accumulating material things, coming out ahead on a business deal all make you feel good for a while, but that feeling never lasts. The things that count, that can't be bought, negotiated or won are peace, health and love. If you achieve them, you will be truly successful.
The future is yours,
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Chicago, Ill. 60601-3806
E-mail: [email protected]
Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com