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A Graduation Speech
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Valedictorian SpeechImage by meganpru via Flickr

We are not preparing children well for the real world. Want proof? Here’s Exhibit A, the children’s soccer league in Ottawa, which made headlines recently when it changed its rules. From now on, any team five points ahead automatically loses if it scores another goal. It used to be that extra goals just weren’t counted, or that they removed players to even out the teams. Now you’re penalized for trying.

Then there’s Exhibit B, a local girl who intends to lobby the Ministry of Education over the forty hours of community service requirement to graduate. It’s a human rights issue. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of that requirement, because I think schools should focus on academics, but that’s another story. What I can’t figure out, though, is of all the things you could adopt as your signature issue, why pick that one? Our main focus today is on our rights, not on our responsibilities.

Neither of these attitudes is beneficial in the real world. And so, if anybody asked me to give a graduation speech, here’s the one I would deliver:

You are about to start your real life. You have now graduated from a false world. If you’re wondering what’s so false about it, look around at all of your classmates. Every single one of these students has likely earned a “Terrific Kid” award at some point. And yet you and I both know that many of these kids are not terrific. They’re bullies. But the system that you have been immersed in likes to tell everybody that they are special. You have been rewarded just for showing up. You have been allowed to hand things in late. You have been marked on a bell curve.

All of that is about to come to a screeching halt. In the real world there is only one thing that matters: doing your best. The work world does not give you bonus points for showing up on time. They fire you if you don’t. They give you a task, and they want it completed. There is no such thing as extensions. And what will determine whether or not you move ahead in your career is whether or not you do your best.

So do your best, but not only at work. Do your best at home, too. Most of you will marry, and most of you will be parents. The most important job you will ever have is raising your family. Work harder at solving problems at home than you have ever worked at anything in your life. Do your best at home, and your life will be so much smoother. Neglect home, and everything else will be harder.

But it is not enough to do your best. And so here is my second piece of advice: don’t obsess about whether or not life is fair. Of course it’s not fair! Some have more, and some have less. Some are smarter, prettier, and stronger, and some are not. You can spend your life feeling cheated, or you can be grateful for what you do have, and make a difference.

This world is not going to become a better place because the government makes it better. This world is going to become a better place because you make it better. Get to know your neighbours. Help out a single mom. Shovel an elderly person’s driveway. Give money to cancer research. Adopt a kid through World Vision. Stay humble.
You have your futures ahead of you. It is up to you how those futures turn out. I hope you embrace your future with enthusiasm, and jump in with both feet, rather than waiting for someone else to make your future bright. Your life will not always be easy, but it is yours. Live it, because nobody else can do it for you.

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At 9:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Great speech Sheila!


At 1:21 PM , Blogger Gretchen said…

Yes, yes, and YES. Everyone DOESN'T get a trophy just for playing and everyone ISN'T exceptional and deserving of high self-esteem, especially when they don't try.


At 11:22 PM , Anonymous Bonnie said…

You know what the worst part is, the world is becoming more like that too! In the workplace today it is more common to find laziness and complete lack of pride in one's work. . . and it is excused all the time. The boss is so afraid of being sued for not treating someone fairly that he lets more and more slide with every passing day. The government wants everyone to have what everyone else has so it doesn't matter much anymore whether or not you earn it, they will just hand it to you out of fairness! What will it take for this downhill turn to change. . .I only wish I knew!

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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