Sunday, November 11, 2012

If You Could Only Say One Thing.. My High School Commencement Speech

If you had the chance to stand before the graduating class and influence the minds of tomorrow with your words, would you do it?  I had that chance in May of 2011 at my very own high school. When I was asked to give this speech, I was completely petrified.  Between heart palpitations, I decided that it was a huge honor and an opportunity that I could not pass up no matter how scary or hard it would be to stand in front of 600+ people and share my thoughts on the past, future and try to say something meaningful to the future leaders of tomorrow.

As my last race of the season approaches, I found myself thinking back to this speech today.  Some moments I feel really calm and collected about Ironman Arizona.  Other times I have a tinge of anxiety in realizing I'll be stepping up to the line with the winner of the Ironman World Championships this year.  Yes, Leanda is coming, and yes, I will be with her for about 2 seconds until she swims away (2 seconds may be pushing it, might be more like 0.5).

Has my preparation been enough?  Am I ready?  Will I perform up to my own expectations?  The questions find a way to creeping in and I have been finding ways to counter them with looking over training logs, thinking back to all the days on my bike and my long runs and now.. to speech.

Somehow I needed to read it again to see just who WAS that girl who stood up there and spoke to those kids.  I needed to go back and realize that when I wrote this, I hadn't even earned my pro card yet. That wouldn't happen until Lake Placid in July of that same year.

It helped me to see her more clearly and realize that she knew exactly what she wanted and what she was getting into.  To her, it didn't matter who was on the starting line.  What mattered was that she got the opportunity to live her dreams and to help others find theirs.  It helped me be one step closer to being ready for one of my biggest races of the season.  Maybe it will help you take on that next challenge, whatever it may be. It wasn't fancy.  It didn't have amazing analogies or extensive vocabulary, but I spoke from a personal place from my heart.

So without further adieu - My Commencement Speech, Given to the Keystone High School Class of 2011.

Greetings!  Wow…this is scary!... I mean, an honor.  I’m pretty sure I now know why they say people fear public speaking more than death! 

When I was asked to give a speech at your commencement, I went on a very long run soon after.  During that run I thought about everything I wanted to say and then tried to type most of it in that very night.  Then I rewrote it three more times.  It was almost as if I couldn’t hold in what I wanted to say to you if I tried.  Class of 2011, I know you weren’t waiting for me, but I’ve been waiting to talk to you for well, quite some time.  I’m certainly not qualified to speak to you.  In fact, there are many people more qualified sitting in these stands today.  However, I believe, that for some strange reason, I’m supposed to share a piece of my life with you today that just might change one of yours.  Either that, or I did some really good brown-nosing when I was in school with Mr. Nesta.  Thanks Fran!  This is awesome! 

So what could a thirty-something girl who hasn’t been in school for eons know about what’s going on in your mind?   Trust me, you and I are more alike than you might think.  For instance, I like Pandora’s Lady Gaga station;  I love my Mom, but I also think she’s a little nutty sometimes (she isn’t here is she?);  I get a little scared when I think that I might not live up to my own expectations, and sometimes I still worry I won’t make my parents proud.  I’ve been told many times in the past that I’m too “small-town” to really expect much to come from my life.  I’ve also been called names, snubbed, laughed at, bullied and told to just sit and look pretty with my mouth closed.  These, my friends, are just a few of the reasons why it’s so important that I share today why each one of you should never let go of your dreams, no matter how big or impossible they might seem.

With that said, let me take a quick stab at what’s going on in your mind right this second.   Well, besides the “let’s get this over with, so I can throw my cap and go eat”, or “I can’t wait for summer to start”. Maybe you’re thinking about starting a new job or a new school in the fall, college parties (I mean…studying!), joining a sorority or fraternity, football games, and trying to narrow down your major or that scary idea of a CAREER PATH.  Some or you are probably just psyched that you can finally stay up as late as you want!   I’m also pretty sure there are plenty of you who, for the first time, are thinking about your life…where am I going, and what do I want to do?  For the first time, some of the decisions are solely up to you and the responsibility of those decisions might be weighing heavily on your mind. 

I’d like to tell you all that it gets much easier from here, but unfortunately – not so much.  You’ll be an adult now – yippee right?!  Let me be the first to tell you - Even though you may not be in school anymore, people will still quiz you all the time.  You’ll just get much better at making up the answers. 

In all seriousness, today is a day where we celebrate your achievement and your success.  I commend each and every one of you for having the perseverance and fortitude to overcome the many obstacles in your path that brought to where you sit in front of me today.
I’d like to pretend I took the major points of this little chat were having from some book on success or famous scholar, but pretty much everything I’ve subscribed to in life thus far can be traced back to a t-shirt slogan.  Needless to say, as a runner and triathlete, I spend A LOT of time wearing t-shirts to workout.  I have a few shirts I’d like to share with you today.  Then you’re totally off the hook, and we’ll all go to Eat-n-Park (I think my husband said he would buy).

My first t-shirt is: 

It’s the shirt that is a little cheesy, but I always go to when times are really rough and I can’t quite remember why I’m up at 5:00am running with a headlamp through the dark snowy roads.  It’s the saying you may need to envision when people tell you that you just can’t live your dreams or become who you know in your heart you were meant to be.  Believing may require that other people not only think you’re pretty weird, but that they call you names, talk about you behind your back, or get on your case about pursuing a more “normal” path.  It won’t matter though, because you have to believe in what you’re doing and that it will mean something, not only to you, but to the world.  In the end, you will never regret that you envisioned something meaningful for your life and went after it full force. 

Earn it
When I put this shirt on, I know there is a world of pain in my future.  It’s my shirt that means that even if I was given these talents, it is in my best interest to use them to the fullest of my ability and sometimes that means chiseling away at the worst parts of my character and my negative attitude so that I can really see what’s underneath.  It’s the mile repeat shirt, the 100-mile bike ride shirt and sometimes the 5k race shirt.  It reminds us that most of the things in life worth anything, are worth working hard for… and that if it were easy, everyone would do it. 

One of my favorite books is the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  In it, he states that “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out.  The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want something.  The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.”

This shirt is to remind us that what we truly want will require effort, persistence, sacrifice, and perseverance.   It may even require that you live in your parents basement…(did you hear that, a shutter went across the room)…live in your parent’s basement working your day job so you can go to school at night, or start your own internet company, or work your way up from the bottom to the top.  In the end, even if things don’t turn out exactly like you thought, you will never regret putting in your maximum effort and seeing where life takes you.   

Running on Faith
This shirt always gets a few double takes at the gym.  It’s my go-to shirt for soul searching and my conversation starter.  Having the faith not only in yourself, but in the fact that you are on the right path, the path meant only for you, is what this shirt is about.  Faith is standing firm in what you believe, even when you have every reason not to.  Faith is the what keeps you going through the darkest times…when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel…when all of the negative thoughts seem to take over.  No matter where you stand on the issue of faith, I know one thing is true…without faith, the world can be a very, very discouraging place.  One of my favorite verses is “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us my friends and never, ever give up”.

Fuel Your Passion
Obviously, this is one of my favorite shirt sayings because it’s the name of my business.  It took a very long time to chose this name because I needed it to be so meaningful not only to me, but to others.   Obviously I’m passionate about healthy living, eating and exercise and I want to help my clients fuel their lifestyles with the right things to help them be successful.  I dare you to imagine your wildest dream and then think of it as a glowing ember of a flame.  What can you do to help add fuel to the fire?  Who in your life can help you, support you, or encourage you to keep that flame going, even when times get tough.  No matter what it is that you decide to do in life, I pray you will do it with passion and a sense of conviction.  Anything is possible…I truly believe that! 

Be an Infulencer  
Ok…so I’ve never seen this on a t-shirt, but it’s a story that I have to share for a moment.  There are so many influencers in this room.  There are people here who have shaped your life, and mine. 

Are any of you on the track team?  

Both my high school cross country coach and track coach were those influencers for me.  I won’t continue to embarrass Fran so, I’ll pick on my track coach for a minute.

Everyone loves an early March outdoor track meet right?!   The cold, the wind, at times the blowing snow…It’s glorious!  Years ago, as I was hiding in the back of the bus, a familiar scene would always occur during these early March meets.  While the 1600m grew near, I would slink down further and further in my seat until I was barely visible, and eventually my coach would walk back and give me “the look”.  When I didn’t seem very eager to take off my warm sweats to don my sheer nylon uniform underneath, she would always ask the same question “How Bad Do You Want It?”  It was a question she and I both knew well, because I wanted to go to districts, but without a qualifying time, it just wasn’t going to happen.  So, when I was asked that particular question, it was always an easy answer.  Begrudgingly, I would take off a layer and head out to warm up.  I wanted it, and I wanted it bad.  I still do and so should all of you. Whatever it is, whatever your goal, visualize it, dream about it and ask yourself that question when times get tough.  I never forgot Sue Shaner, or Fran Nesta, my college coach, Beth Sullivan, or the many other influencers in my life.  They made me who I am today.  I can only hope that I, and you, will get that same opportunity to shape the lives of those around us for the better someday. 

Develop your safety net
I’ve been up and I’ve been down.  From crossing the finish line at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii…to getting carried into a medical tent by a team of volunteers in St. Croix.  And then when I didn’t’ think I could get much lower, I crashed my bike during the Half Ironman World Championships in Florida, and ended up with broken bones and a titanium plate in my shoulder.  Yes, I am now bionic!  Although it seemed like the worst thing that could have happened at the time, crashing that bike gave me critical perspective on what really mattered in my life, and that perspective helped save my marriage and, therefore, my life. 

There is a place called rock bottom, and my hope is that none of you ever get to see it first-hand.  Chances are though, that many of you will.  On such a happy day, it’s not a place to spend much time talking about except for that fact that the people in your life that you care about will be so important should you ever get there.  When you’re falling, they will catch you.  One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to develop your safety net of these family members, friends, pastors, and teachers and rely on them, give back to them, appreciate them, and love them.  Even when you try to run away, your safety net will know enough to not let you go.  Instead of the things I used to think were important like a nice house, or a fancy car or expensive clothes, today when I think of what I can’t live without…I always think of those people. 

No Fear? (This used to be a popular shirt)
The last thing I want to comment on before I leave you is fear.  Beyond those doors is the rest of your life, and it’s coming whether you’re ready for it or not.  Fear is a part of our lives.  Not one of us can say we haven’t been touched by it at some point. 

Sometimes the best way to address fear is to stare it in the face, acknowledge it, and beat it down with a stick.  Overcoming fear doesn’t happen instantly or automatically. It is the result of deliberate intention, and conscious action towards doing things that scares you.  As a result of overcoming your fears, you grow as a person, and expand the possibilities that surround your life.
Sometimes you have to say it out loud, like this, “I want to be a professional triathlete”, not because it sounds cool, because it’s glamorous or because it could bring fame or fortune.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, it will require great sacrifice, being away from my husband for extended periods of time to train and race, and most likely will come with very little recognition or monetary reward.  However, that doesn’t change the fact that I feel this is the path that has been chosen for my life long before I even realized it existed.  At the end of this year, I’ll make that transition, and I’m afraid of every part of it…that I won’t be good enough, that I’ll be mocked, that I’ll regret taking this path later in life.  Deep down, I know that my belief in the plan is greater than all of those fears combined, and no matter what, I won’t let them stop me. 

Whatever it is, whatever you chose to do, don’t ever let fear be the deciding factor that keeps you from taking the first step.  Getting hurt, having uncertainty, taking risks and evening “failing” is a part of life.  Without it, we would never truly see what we are made of, or get a chance to examine the path we are on to possibly make a different choice in the future.  Only we can let ourselves become a slave to fear when we allow ourselves to be intimidated by it and believe it is real.

Going forward:
·         I urge you to develop your own set of t-shirt slogans that guide your life and give it meaning and purpose. 
·         I challenge you to find what you love outside those doors and latch onto it with passion and fury and not let it go no matter what the world throws at you. 
·         I encourage you to make this world a better place than what it was before you arrived.
·  And I dare you to take risks, live your life to the fullest and become the people of character that you were truly meant to become. 

Class of 2011, I am only one girl, but you my friends are many, and you are young, talented, and you have the world at your feet.   Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak with you today.  It’s been my honor and my privilege! 

If you could only say one thing to your graduating class - what would YOU say? 


Jennifer Harrison said...

What a major honor to do this, Kim and your speech was well done! Good luck in AZ and see you there!

Steve said...

Wow Kim, What a great speech. If I had something to say to a graduating class, I would probably just steal most of this. :)