What I want to speak to you about tonight is simple, really. I have had all year long to discuss philosophy, ethics and morals with you. I love doing that, and that is the main reason I love literature. But tonight, I want to talk about your own personal future. You have used up the last page in your spirals, turned in your public education textbooks, and cleaned out your lockers for the last time. No more laws require you to learn. You have used up all of your wide-ruled notebook paper. You are free!
So, now what? Some of you have your lives planned out for the next four years, already having been accepted to a college; some of you have committed to join the armed forces; some of you plan on attending a vocational school for two years, then working at a trade; some of you are planning on working immediately, while others of you are still struggling with these decisions.
What I want you to think about tonight has absolutely no bearing on which of these options you have chosen. Your future plans are totally irrelevant. Your future goals, regardless of great intentions, do not matter. What matters, is now: this very moment, tomorrow, and the next day. Who you are today determines who you will be tomorrow. When I see you 5, 10, or 20 years from now, what I look forward to seeing in you is not what you have become, but who you have become.
I am certainly not saying that education is unimportant, or that the decisions you are making right now are frivolous. They are most obviously consequential. However, your future has already begun: today. Think of the people you know who are truly happy. Is it their social position in life, their money, their wife or husband, or their possessions that make them happy? No. The people I know who are truly happy find their happiness within themselves. It is their ability to be content in this world, regardless of their circumstances. Henry Van Dyke said "What you possess in the world will be found at the day of your death to belong to someone else. But what you are will be yours forever."
God judges man by who he is, not by what he has accomplished, what he has achieved, or by what material success he has accumulated. I challenge you to do no less. John Luther said "Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece - by thought, choice, courage and determination."
Right now you are each facing a crossroads. Which road you take will indeed make all the difference. Again, I am not speaking of educational success, material success or even the American dream. I am speaking of your success as a person - how you treat others, the value of your word, the honor and respect you give God. Proverbs 23:7 says "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Be the person God created you to be, and you will be a success, whether you are a prominent attorney or a construction worker. This is success. This is what you should focus on today. Then tomorrow will follow accordingly. An old Japanese proverb says "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare." God will give each of you a vision of the character He created you to be. Act on it now, and you will succeed.
I decided to complete one of the many assignments I have given you, so here it is:
The Seniors of '98
This poem is for you, the Seniors of '98
For letting me see the potential in your eyes
And the world in your smiles
For reading aloud voluntarily, sometimes
For reading between the lines all the time
For honestly taking in knowledge - don't ever stop.
For showing yourselves and me the depth of your understanding
From Beowulf, to Shakespeare, to Frankenstein.
For allowing yourselves to truly learn about others through words
For allowing yourselves to truly learn about yourselves through thoughts
For your never-ending sense of humor,
From orang-och-tang to sWord.
For the fears you now have of leaving home
For the fears you now have of never leaving home.
For expressing kindnesses to those who are similar to yourself
For expressing compassion to those who are not similar to yourself
For detesting cruelty, lies, and injustice enough to refuse to participate
For desiring truth and honor enough to refuse to settle for anything less.
This poem is for you, the Seniors of 1998
For sharing yourselves with me,
For being you,
I love you.