Class of 2014,
This week you will experience the first day of the rest of your life. You, not myself or the teachers who facilitate your education, are the VIPs. This week, each and every one of you will become the latest addition to the society of the American Dream. On this day, I ask that you allow me to share these few words of wisdom I have learned in my own endeavors since my own graduation 10 years ago.
Ten years ago I sat where you are today with the same question, sternly believing in some of the same presupposed answers. However, the trajectory of my life has changed so dramatically, in a jarring burst, that my 18-year-old-self could not, and would not, recognize the man I am today. Let me be the first to tell you, young men and women, this is not a miracle I alone have experienced. This is the miracle we call life. Life, if anything, is an obstacle course of highs and lows; character, then, is the experience and skill you gain from tackling those obstacles – some on your own and some only through the help of others.
This year marks the end of a defining chapter in my own generation. When I graduated just one decade ago, our country had, just years before, suffered the deadliest attack on our home soil since Pearl Harbor, and although only a few of us raised our hands to fight our ruthless enemies on the front lines, the entire country suffered its repercussions. We do not have to look far to see the price we have paid and the devastation resulting from this War on Terror. But what you need to appreciate, what many overlook, are the amazing accomplishments we have achieved together in light of such tragedy.
Today, because of high school graduates like yourselves, men and women who lost their legs in combat can walk into their hometown high school with their heads held high. That same technology allows beautiful, innocent children who fell victim to the bombing of a staple marathon in Boston to continue growing, playing, learning and achieving with their peers.
Today, because of a growing concern for the mental health of our service members fighting in this, the “longest war” in our country’s history, Americans are learning to understand themselves and one another in ways that save lives and reconnect relationships. Families are learning to battle Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury together, rather than allowing them to tear them apart. So that not only service members who have fought in war, but perhaps more importantly, for innocent Americans who fall victim to spontaneous and tragic events, will have an abundance of tools and understanding to battle psychological challenges.
I share the accomplishments of my generation with you today because we were not the first, nor will we be the last, to transition from young adult to adult in a world of uncertainty and turbulence. Although these wars became the defining chapters of my generation, it was how we handled them, and what we chose to learn from them, that truly changed the world forever. You, young men and women, may not choose what defines your generation in the years to come. However, you can, and will, choose how your generation of Americans reacts to and overcomes these obstacles. And you will dictate what is recorded in history books to one day be read when a high school student asks his or her teacher, “Tell me about that generation, America’s second greatest generation.”
Today, many of you may feel as though an authority over you has been lifted, but I must warn you that authority has been replaced with responsibility. You are not the leaders of tomorrow; you truly are the ones who will affect change today. You have tools at your fingertips we couldn’t have dreamed of 10 years ago, and you are already using them to make the world a better place.
At the beginning of this address I mentioned the “American Dream.” Perhaps, for many, that means a house, a job, a family and a dog – but not for you all. For each of you the American Dream no longer fits into the cookie cutter of another generation’s ideals. For each and every one of you the American Dream is both unique and equally satisfying. Your American Dream is truly what you desire and work just hard enough to achieve.
You are our American Dream; we went to war to ensure your freedom to grow and flourish with ideas in your minds and passion in your hearts. You live in a country that doesn’t say to its youth, “This is what you cannot do;” you live in a country that says to its young adults, “Let me show you all that you can do.”
I will leave you with this one last thought: We live each day in search of the beautiful things in life, and sometimes it seems they become fewer and farther between. It is easy to convince yourself that the odds are against you and that your life is filled with negativity. But I say to you, the magic in life, the true happiness we seek, comes to each of us in small doses. We constantly work to achieve the next smile.
But these smiles are so unique, so valuable, so fragile, that they remind me of a shooting star. Shooting stars are unpredictable, fast and many go without notice. But if you’ve ever found yourself starring into the darkness, becoming overwhelmed with the nothingness of a night sky, of life, look for your shooting star. When it comes, and you will see it, you will know that all the darkness is merely a horizon, a canvas of hope upon which the next shooting star will appear and another smile will emerge from the obstacles we face.
Go out and look for your shooting stars; you are the few who are so lucky to call themselves Americans, and now, today, you begin your journey of making this world a better place.