Good afternoon. It is my privilege to welcome family members, friends, distinguished guests, and, most importantly, the Class of 2017. Undoubtedly, this is a day that you have dreamt about for quite a long time. I imagine the same may be true for the many parents in attendance. Today simultaneously represents the culmination of thirteen years of hard work and the beginning of the next phase of your life’s journey. I, along with the Hanover County School Board, am grateful for the opportunity to be with you today to celebrate your accomplishments.
Graduates, my message to you today can be summed up in three words—Relevance, Equity, and Innovation. These words have been a focal point this year among our educators and staff, and they will guide all work in the school division for many years to come to ensure we continue to provide our students with an exceptional education.
By now, I’m sure some of you are asking yourselves, “What does this have to do with me? Why does this matter now? I’ve completed my work. I’m graduating.” Perhaps you’ve asked similar questions along the way about your coursework. “When will I ever have to use the Pythagorean Theorem? Why do I need to learn the periodic table? How do events from 200 years ago affect me now?” Well, I believe these are all great questions, which leads to the first of the three words--relevance.
As you enter into the workforce, military service, or higher education, your need for relevance will change from something you crave in your academic experience to a life perspective you may come to embrace. Soon, you will no longer be preparing for the world as much as you will be living and working in it. Perhaps relevance in this context can be framed as a need for significance and importance. So, I challenge you to begin asking yourselves these questions instead, “Am I adding significance? Am I adding importance?”
True, significance, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder. In my view though, significance is not about what we are able to obtain or achieve, rather it is about what we are able to give. Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” Relevance in life is not so much about the application of theory learned in a classroom as much as it is about applying knowledge in order to serve the greater good.
The second of these ideas is equity. Like relevance, this may mean different things in different settings. In education, equity is the recognition that a cookie-cutter approach does not best serve our students. Each one of you has different interests, different strengths, different needs, and different dreams. Your incredible teachers, including those present here today, as well as your elementary and middle school teachers, recognized your uniqueness, fostered it, and prepared you well for your respective paths. Equity beyond the walls of the school though is the acknowledgment that fair does not mean equal.
Being an avid baseball fan, I was naturally drawn to a new book co-written by David Ross entitled, Teammate: My Life in Baseball. For those unfamiliar with Ross, he was the catcher for last year’s World Champion Chicago Cubs, as well as last season’s runner-up in Dancing with the Stars. In his book, Ross touches on this idea of fairness. He describes the many people who positively influenced him to become the best teammate he could be. At one point, he describes perhaps the toughest lesson he ever learned in baseball, which occurred in 2008 during his brief time with the Cincinnati Reds. Ross played well the previous year and admittedly developed a somewhat cocky attitude. He didn’t feel that his talents were being recognized, especially by his manager, Dusty Baker, so he voiced his displeasure in a less-than-professional manner with the expectation of getting more playing time and recognition. Instead, the Reds sent him packing and informed him that his services were no longer needed. It was a harsh lesson, but one that helped him to change his outlook. From then on, he focused on serving others, even if it meant helping those who could potentially take away his own playing time.
This story is a reminder that the words to an old Rolling Stones song still hold true: “You can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.” In life, equity is the idea that you give people what they need and that giving is rarely equal. Sometimes a hug is needed, sometimes it’s a shoulder to cry on, and occasionally it’s a hard lesson. The important part is that you can’t make that assessment if you don’t truly take the time to get to know people. Just as your teachers took the time to understand your unique needs, so, too, must you take the time for the various individuals in your life.
The final theme is that of innovation. Business leaders, both in Hanover and across the nation, remind us time and again that one of the most desired qualities for prospective employees is creativity. They recognize that to continue to survive in the marketplace, they must do much more than simply replicate or manufacture someone else’s idea—they must come up with the ideas themselves. The realization that there are multiple pathways to success as opposed to one “right” answer is surprising to some. In life, simply selecting “C” on a multiple choice test is not an option. The problems you will face will be much more complex. As Albert Einstein reminds us, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Relentless determination, persistence, and the attitude that failure is not real failure unless we give up produced Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Steve Jobs, Dorothy Vaughan, and Bill Gates. So, do not be afraid to dream big. Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Do not be afraid of being labeled as “different” or even “eccentric.” You see, these words perfectly describe some of the greatest contributors to mankind. Not only can innovation lead to success, but it is, in fact, one of the most integral components.
Graduates, in just a very short time, you will walk across this stage. You will receive a diploma that is representative of the hard work you have invested. The diplomas will appear very similar, with the most distinct difference of course being the name in the center. This difference should not be underestimated. Each of you had a different path to arrive at this moment in time. Embrace these differences because they are a part of what makes you, you. Use your uniqueness to spur creativity and innovation without fear. At the same time, remember that those with whom you come in contact are individuals as well. Take the time to get to know them, to really know them. Only then can you be the best teammate possible by treating them with the equity they deserve. Finally, approach your next steps by asking yourself, “Am I adding relevance? Am I adding significance through my actions?”
Relevance, equity, and innovation can be found in almost any profession, but they do not occur by chance. Like the dedication that brought you here today, cultivating these ideas will take a focused approach. I have no doubt that you are up to the challenge. Congratulations, Class of 2017. I cannot wait to see the difference you will make.