Monday, May 18, 2009

Where's your inspiration, Class of 2009?

I was filled with immense joy and relief this past weekend as I attended the high school graduation ceremony of my nephew Harold. He looked so handsome in his blue cap and gown, his strong jaw giving way to a confident, beaming smile. Despite his veering bumps along the way, he managed to maintain the focus and dedication needed to get through high school. Thank heavens.

We settled in to our seats at the Denver Convention Center eager to hear the commencement speeches when my stomach suddenly turned sour. Westminster High School's Principal, Kevin Braney gave a speech solely based on legendary movie lines. He muttered Clint Eastwood's famous phrase from Dirty Harry, "You've got to ask yourself one question Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?" and I only came away only with the message that this person finds himself parked in front of the TV on a Friday night more than most.

The salutatorian and valedictorian speeches were delivered as expected, which consisted of hopeful, reminiscent concoctions about the trials of high school that got a few laughs. They were fine, and covered the bases of what most would expect of student speeches. Then Adams School District 50 Superintendent, Dr. Roberta Selleck was introduced and took the podium.

From the very beginning of her speech, I shook my head in disbelief at what we were witnessing. What was supposed to be an opportunity to encourage greatness in our future leaders sadly turned into a pop culture powerpoint presentation covering sterile events that have been over-inflated and exhaustively covered by the media over the past 18 years. This collection of insipid entertainment news equated to nothing more than bubblegum for the brain. It's possible that everyone in the auditorium now has a lower IQ for having endured such nonsense.

Here's a tip for you, Adams School Distrct 50 Superintendent: next time have your assistant prepare your speech BEFORE going out drinking for the evening. It's clear that someone somewhere put the smallest amount of effort needed to drag you along. Ah yes, and when you babble uninteresting things like, "The jobs of 2015 haven't even been created yet... that's like in 5 years" do the actual math. At least be approximate and suggest perhaps that, "it's just over 5.6 and half years away." Further, this year's graduates would typically be out of college before 2015, are you trying to suggest that they'd be receiving an obsolete education and will be ill equipped to survive in an ever changing society? Thanks for making the future look so dim to people who would be inspired by you, had you anything intelligible to say.

I'm saddened at the lack of effort put forth by Adams School District 50's principal and the superintendent on such a celebratory occasion. Were they too busy to throw Google at it? Surely speeches on the web would prove more thought provoking than what they half-heartedly scribbled on to paper in their obvious last minute attempts at mediocrity. Is it too much to ask that our present educators bring positive and innovative messages to develop and foster growth in our future generations?

To leaders who are tasked with speaking at engagements such as graduation commencements for young people who are being let out into the wild: Take note of people who really know how to inspire greatness in others. One such J.K. Rowling, on a speech given to Harvard Graduates in 2008. The Harry Potter author spoke from experience on the enormous influence of imagination and said, "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." Finally, an invaluable message to young people that they have all they need to make the world around them a greater place. Rowling then ended with a gracious reminder, "As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters."

Here's hoping my nephew will collect inspiration from the example of great leaders from today and throughout history, from effective speakers who command your undivided attention and persuade you to be better at whatever it is you're doing, from writers who free your mind and imagination to explore the unequivocally unknown and from people everywhere who have the strength and courage to make the absolute most of their time here on Earth.

J.K. Rowling full speech:

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