The following is the graduation speech I gave to the students from the Utah County Academy of Sciences (UCAS) recently. I have taken away all of the preliminary beginnings and gone straight to the speech. 80% of these high school students earned associate degrees from Utah Valley University prior to graduating from high school:
As your graduation theme states, “You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore” (Christopher Columbus).
I have stood on the shore where Columbus built his first colony on his second voyage in 1493. It’s a little town called La Isabela, which is on the northwestern shore of the Dominican Republic. After this colony failed, Columbus and mostly others built Santo Domingo in 1496, which became the new capital of the Isla Hispañiola and has remained the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas.
Your graduation day signifies you had the courage to lose sight of the shore. Your shore was, is, and probably will continue to be in many cases your school district, your public school, some of your friends, and your families. They are the ones, most likely, that brought you into this life, nurtured you, and helped you see your potential and pushed you probably more than you wanted. Then, a few years ago, you played the lottery, ended up here at UCAS, graduated recently with your associate degree, and now you sit before us all ready to graduate from high school. Many of you have battled the elements of English 1010, Math 1050 and other UVU courses, final exams, and, perhaps, being given grief to by some of your friends and acquaintances by choosing UCAS over one of your shores.
Much to our chagrin and our mothers’ anguish, all of us were born as obscure creatures, mostly hairless, helpless, and hapless and of “no consequence in the world” (Joseph Smith–History 1:22-23). Since that time, many of you have grown hair, some more and dyed in colors different than your parents have wanted; become helpful in positive ways; and have received some fortuitous wisdom along the way. What will matter most from now until the day you die is how you have risen from your initial obscurity to your status in the world–whatever that might be.
Your philosophy at UCAS is unique, one that I hope you have read and pondered: “The Utah County Academy of Sciences (UCAS) is a specialized, magnet public high school that provides an unconventional educational opportunity for high school students who are greatly motivated.”
Utilizing your philosophy and bit of my own that I have picked up along the way, I would like to share with you seven tidbits of knowledge that may help you gain more courage to lose sight of the shores but not to forget your roots.
#1 Remain unconventional—What does that word actually mean? Today’s verbiage or your cultural vernacular would say…idiosyncratic, unusual, unorthodox, odd, eccentric, different, individual, original, out there bizarre, bohemian, off-the-wall, oddball out of the ordinary, atypical, just to name a few. Some people call it being disruptive. Being unconventional and inventive and disruptive can lead you to places no one has ever been. Think about that. Some of you are 17 or 18, maybe even 19, but if you remain unconventional and inventive and disruptive—and a host of other positive adjectives—you will go where no other has gone. You will invent and create things not in existence today. You will create businesses that will blow the market wide open. Some of you will become some of the greatest people ever born. But ultimately, it’s really all up to you.
#2 Remain “greatly motivated”—Not highly motivated, the normal use of the phrase, but greatly motivated. Being greatly motivated takes a lot of energy. Will you ever be down, a bit distressed? I guarantee it. But should you become discouraged and disjointed? Never. Perhaps, you can be disappointed and then move on. Don’t wallow in what might have been, could have been, or even should have been. Just get up and get her done.
#3 Get over yourself—Some of you may be feeling right now: “Dude, like I’ve earned an associate degree before I even graduated from high school.” I can also tell you this feeling will last for a year or two, and then many people will catch up unless you get over yourself and continue growing and progressing. There really is no such thing as stagnation. Either you are progressing or retrogressing.
#4 Be a leader in everything that you do—Being a leader does not mean you bully your way to top. My approach has been “bold but not overbearing.” On my email signature, I have placed Rosalynn Carter’s quote: "A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."
#5 Don’t become obsolete in today’s ever-changing marketplace— Becoming obsolete in the workplace can only cause pain and harm to you and your career, but learning how to be creative and inventive will propel you along the ever-changing path that will keep your head above the froth of life. Obsolescence does not become you.
#6 Be committed to important and appropriate things—Be committed to a higher power; to your families and your future families; to lifelong learning (so you don’t become obsolete); to every community you live in; to listening and communicating and not just via texting; to being aware you are the puppeteer of your own life; and to being the best, kindest, and most honorable person you can be or your parents expect you to be or think you already are.
#7 Remember that knowledge is abundant but wisdom only comes from the appropriate application of that knowledge. Jaime Escalante, an incredible mathematics teacher whose teaching philosophy and life were portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, had a poster on his wall in his mathematics classroom that read: "Free, Free, Free—Knowledge! Bring your own Containers.” You have to dig deep, gain that knowledge, and then apply it to real life. That’s gaining wisdom.
Most of us will never tell you to keep lose to the shore or lose sight of it or never to go out and explore. But there are always ways to maintain and enhance your foundation while simultaneously extending your reach like Columbus and many others have done. All of the knowledge in the world is out there….All you have to do is lose sight of the shore, bring your own containers, and fill them up, one at a time.
But most of all—yes, most of all—go….explore….be inventive…remember from whence you came.….be courageous….and ultimately just do what needs to be done!