Commencement season is upon us. And although I haven't been invited to speak at a graduation, I have something to say to the class of 2013. The rest of you might find this interesting too...
[Approaches the podium to thunderous applause]
Please, please. Settle down. You are too kind. Thank you for the generous applause...I already know my name. There is no need to chant.
I am so very happy to be here and I very much enjoyed that great welcome.
All of you are looking at me expecting some sort of grand insight and motivational fuel that will sustain you as you leap out into the world... or as you are pushed out in to the world. I am looking at you, sixth year seniors, those of you who red-shirted but never played a sport.
Ok, here it is. This is the word that will make or break your future:
Life is a series of decisions with variables. Your success is based completely on the decisions you make when considering those variables. Where you fall in class ranking is a good example of the intersection of decisions and variables and their result. While class rank is a measure of which students performed the best academically it is not necessarily indicative of who will be most successful or who made the best decisions while in school.
Here is some good news for those of you who, more times than not, chose to spend nights with beer and friends over books. You were building your network and refining the critical "soft" skills that are so valuable for being successful in the "real world." Being approachable, engaging, warm, likable, a good listener and an effective communicator are invaluable skills for interviews, entrepreneurial pitches, running for public office and climbing the ladder within any organization. This experience may also be the most important factor in finding the right life partner. It certainly helped me find my wife. Ashley is a supportive, flexible, inspiring partner -- best decision of my life.
So if you are in the position where you have to move back home after today, and your parents -- who desperately want you to get a decent-paying job and leave the nest -- ask you if you have any plans this weekend, you can say as you're heading out to meet your friends, "I am deciding to practice the skills needed to get a job and move out."
Don't take for granted your freedom to make even the smallest decisions. We make so many choices in a day that oftentimes we go into autopilot and make decisions without fully considering the factors. It seems we only want to sit down and evaluate options and make a thoughtful deliberate decision when we know that the outcome is important. Do you remember when you decided which colleges to apply to and then which one to attend? I imagine you gave that decision more consideration than deciding whether to get out of bed or press the snooze button again this morning. But the truth is, you never know which decisions are going to be the pivotal ones.
Sports fans and TV analysts put so much emphasis on what happens in the final seconds of the game, but players know that the choices made in the first quarter are just as important as the ones made when the clock is running out.
A basketball team loses by two after the star player misses a buzzer-beater with multiple defenders in his face. Inevitably his decision to shoot or pass will be the topic of the next morning's sports talk radio discussions, but the coach and players are more likely to focus on the numerous decisions that lead to 12 first half turnovers, or the coach's failure to rest his players periodically throughout the game. Even the decisions made well before the game starts (e.g. Do the players need a day off from practice or should they practice free-throws?) can affect the result more than the one isolated end-of-game decision.
Coaches and players labor over some of the smallest choices because they never know which decision will be the pivotal one. And they know that by making the right calls on a series of early decisions, they will handle those end-of-game decisions better.
Our lives are no different. No single bad decision is damning, but a bad decision can leave you behind in the fourth quarter. I would prefer to be up by 20 points with five minutes to go, and listening to the student section chant the name of the walk-on that never gets in. By consistently making good choices in your preparation and throughout the game, you'll be in this position more times than not.
I know it's a corny analogy, but I hope it helps you remember to be conscious of the inherent value in every decision you make. I assume each one of you can tell a story about a kid at your high school or a former student here that didn't reach his or her potential because he or she decided to party more than study, or drive under the influence of an illegal substance, or have unprotected sex... the list of potential bad decisions is endless.
Had they taken the time to think about the potential risks and rewards, I am sure they would have made a different choice. Especially when the potential outcomes are this obvious.
I know that in the coming months or years you will forget this speech and who delivered it. Some of you might forget by tomorrow morning, depending on how hard you celebrate tonight. So if you retain anything, it's the word "decisions."
I hope it reminds you of the value of every decision and the positive momentum created by making a series of good decisions.
I hope it reminds you to take responsibility for your decisions.
I hope it reminds you that you will make some bad decisions from time to time and the only way to get out of those jams is to start a new streak of good decisions.
I hope it reminds you of this handsome face.
But seriously, remember that you are empowered to make all your own decisions. Never cede that freedom or control of your own life. Be smart, be disciplined and keep the big picture in mind as you journey out into the real world.
[Leaves the podium to a standing ovation.]