my keynote speech at tonight’s SMHS Top Scholar Event…

On graduation day in 1997, I sat in the second row on the hard plastic chairs in Strahan Coliseum fumbling with my program. On my right sat Brian Brown (my brilliant biology partner – whose heart I not-so-delicately broke as sophomores). On my left sat Suzi Brister. Suzi had been my best friend until four years before when she had effortlessly stolen away my first great love – (Chris had a thing for legs). Having long since drifted apart, we sat forced together, shoulder to shoulder again. Ranked in order, the second row of the Top Ten Percent sat awkwardly, waiting, watching the clock in our polyester purple. With nothing to ease our nerves and distract our boredom but the thought of the days and months and years to come. When we would finally be out of here. When we would finally be all we wanted to be.

But in those days, everyone seemed to expect so much from us, and,honestly, it kinda weirded us out. “You are the future!” they said. Yeah, well, we just wanted to get on with it.

And then we were off, scattered like quail. Off to clumsily blaze our own path. Not sure exactly where that path would lead us.

And the thing is, they were right. We were the future – whatever we ended up making it. I became successful in the music business. (Suzi went on to sell vegetables at Whole Foods. Brian may very well be your professor someday. We made this world our own.)

I admit, we screwed up a lot. We didn’t really get around to everything we thought we were gonna do. We were busy. We were tired. We got distracted. We just weren’t really up for it. Despite our most outstanding dreams and everyone’s prodding and pressure, no one could want it for us. And most importantly, they couldn’t want it more than we did.

As I look around tonight, I see you as we were then (with better fashion, of course). Anxious to go and get on with LIFE. Real life.

So off you go – Some will go to college, some will drop out. Some will attempt the Great American Novel. Some might be pop stars and some could be their makers. Some will crash-land on Mom and Dad’s sofa. Some will be dreamers, some will be doers. You can be the givers or the takers and your choices will affect the world around you.

One thing’s for sure: Life will try to get you down. It’s your choice to make it what you will. You could slide by or you can shoulder more of the work load than you should. There will be times when you’ll get short changed. You can either pout or accept the challenge as a hurdle you will overcome. Life will be unfair. Well, you know, tough cookies. Rise above.

You’re our future now. Don’t let obstacles weigh you down. Rise above. Achieve. Make the world a better place. We have every faith that you will. You will achieve your dreams if you believe in yourself. If you reach for the stars, you’ll grab one. Maybe two.

So, here’s the deal. We’re passing the baton now. The world is yours and we want so very much for you to be the best of us. Just never forget: No one can want it more than you.

I know you’re up for the job. With all my heart, I know you’re up for the job.