Don’t Be Cliche`

Jun 13, 2016

Dear friends,

Not only am I proud to be Spencer’s mom, but Miles and Jake’s mom too. I have been bugging my son Miles for a blog for four years. Finally, he sent a copy of a baccalaureate graduation speech he gave for his high school students. The last third of this speech is his beautiful testimony. Enjoy and please pass along to your graduate friends!

Baccalaureate Speech                                by Miles MacLeod

It is truly an honor to be here. I am humbled by this opportunity. Heritage graduates, don’t be afraid of failure. Be true to thyself. This is the first day of the rest of your life. Follow your heart/ (backslash) passion/ (backslash) dreams. Be the change you wish to see. This is not the end; this is the beginning. Never stop learning. The future is what you want it to be. Everything happens for a reason. Take chances. Pay it forward. Congratulations. Good luck and God bless.

In some ways, all of us are slaves to custom. It is certainly not reason that tells you to wear matching polyester robes and funny square hats whenever you successfully finish a pre-determined period of education. And so it does not surprise me that this week of celebration, known as graduation week, has similarly become beholden to custom’s literary cousin, the cliché. In an ironic twist, a week that is meant to celebrate the hard work of our young scholars is often framed by phrases that many English teachers consider lazy. Sure, they sound cool and make for good hashtags, but unwrap most clichés and underneath these nuggets of cultural wisdom is a nebulous blob of bland impracticality. I, for one, think that our Heritage graduates deserve better. So without delay, let’s take off our funny square hats, put on our thinking caps, and see where this speech takes us

So, where do we start? How about with three words to live by? Ready for it? Never… stop… breathing. Sounds a bit obvious right? Well, so is our first overused graduation cliché: Never stop learning. Sure, it sounds like good advice, especially in this setting, but here’s the thing. Your body is stuffed with 100 billion neurons and an equal amount of sensory receptors that make it their unending job to process information and, without fail, learn from it. In fact, our bodies are made to learn in much the same way that we are made to breathe or sneeze or blink. Without my encouragement, there is no doubt that 100% of you will continue to process information at an amazing rate. So how about some advice that is not so certain and far less cliché. Try this one: “Never stop… teaching.”

From Martin Luther King to Ms. Singh; from Coach K to Coach Kennedy; from Dr. Seuss to Dr. Savage –the men and women who have dedicated their life to teaching is a long and impressive list. For those that accept this challenge, it is a difficult and often thankless path. But it is so necessary. Teaching is what progresses not only our society but our humanity. Conflicts around the world will not end without people to teach forgiveness and reconciliation. Poverty will never end unless literacy and compassion are taught to the poor and rich respectively. Teaching is the reason that cars go faster, buildings get higher, and phones get bigger… and then smaller… and then bigger again. In short, if we want to continue to progress, we need more teachers.

Now for our graduates, teaching does not have to be a profession. But it needs to be a choice. My hope tonight, is that as you increase in experience and knowledge, you would, more often than not, make the decision, whenever it arises, to teach. On the one hand, you could say and do nothing. This will always be the easiest option. On the other hand, you could instruct, inspire, or, best of all, lead through example. This will take effort, creativity, and, at times, courage. It is the hardest option. I hope, for the sake of others, you choose it.

Another common graduation cliché reads like this: The future is what you want it to be. The reality, I am somewhat sad to say, is that the future is not what you want it to be. When I graduated from high school, I wanted lots of money, huge muscles, and a beautiful wife. I got one of them. I will let you try to guess which one. But believe me when I say, it was not from a lack of wanting that I nearly struck out. I mean think about it. If dictating the future was that simple, we could simply blame all the world’s current problems – world hunger, global conflicts, the Kardashians — on our previous graduates.

So if the future is not yours to mold and shape, then what are you to make of it? Make lemonade, says another common cliché. I say that’s a lot of sugar for a lifetime of disappointments. Instead, save your teeth, and remember this instead: The present can be what you want it to be.

You see, the original cliché got it wrong. You can’t control the future any more than you can wish away bad weather. But when rain clouds appear, and be certain they will, you can make sure your boots and umbrella are close by. Or, even better, kick off your boots and jump in some puddles. Whatever you do just remember, the only thing you might be able to control about the future, is your reaction to it. Throughout my life, I have observed that the happiest people are the ones who have learned this truth. My hope tonight is that most of you will too.

Now, I wish I could tell you that the bad advice will stop with graduation, but it won’t. Inevitably things will go wrong in life and when they do, you might hear something like this: everything happens for a reason. Or perhaps this: when God closes a door, he opens a window. Or my personal favorite: the Lord doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

As sweet and reassuring as these may be, like all clichés, they are dangerously simple. They represent, not reality, but a mixture of misplaced idealism and simplified half-truths. Problems arise when we come to believe that every bad thing will be accompanied with an opportunity and an explanation; we are, to a very large extent, setting ourselves up for disappointment and resentment.

I remember when I graduated high school, I was like a cliché myself. My life was simple, and it was fun. My entire belief system could be summarized into neat, little phrases, and on occasion, I would get them made into a tattoo for the world to see. A year into college, however, my world was rocked when my older brother was murdered in a senseless act of violence. For the first time, I realized how shallow my faith really was and how little my collection of cool sayings actually helped. There was no new window for me to climb through; there was no rainbow on the horizon; and as much as I pleaded with God to reason with me, I was met with only silence.

In the years that followed, it felt like I was slowly drowning in an ocean of anger and grief, and the only things being thrown to me were life preservers that didn’t float – a recycled cliché here, an out-of-context Bible verse there, and a promise of thoughts and prayers to come. I was growing tired of treading water. I craved a resting place, somewhere where the waters of doubt would not sweep me away.

Finally, too tired to do anything else, I decided to float. I spread my arms wide, trusted in something other than my own ability, and then…I did nothing.

When God saw that I was floating, he met me at those troubling waters. He did not offer me an explanation or point me towards a window he had just opened. Instead, He promised me heavy burdens with little explanation along the way, and the only thing he pointed out to me was my own weakness. And as bad as this may seem, it was strangely encouraging to discover that my pain and my shortcomings were all part of the plan. But they weren’t the only part. Also included in this plan was a heavenly father who could empathize with my grief and a personal savior who knew what it was like to walk alone in times of darkness.

Needless to say, I was eager to deal my handful of recycled clichés for 31,102 verses of Biblical truth. And when I finally made the trade, I learned something else: I learned that the old cliché – the Lord doesn’t give you more than you can handle – had gotten something terribly wrong. You see, my brother’s murder was more than I could bear. Luckily, however, the Lord doesn’t give you more than He can handle. And this realization has made all the difference.

In conclusion, the sooner you come to realize that life cannot be summarized by a bunch of over-simplified phrases of positive affirmation, the sooner you will get better at it.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking. Mr. Macleod, that advice is good and all, but it’s too long and impossible to remember. We need something catchy, something cool. Something we can remember forever and always. Fine, if I could boil down my entire speech into three simple words, words for you to live by and be inspired by, it would be these…


And if you are sitting there thinking that this is a rather lazy, over-simplified summary of the speech that doesn’t really help you in any way as you navigate the murky waters of adulthood,… well, you’re on the right path.

Heritage High School, Class of 2016, you can put your funny hats back on.

Thank you.

The girls sharing the spotlight with daddy at his Teacher of the Year acceptance speech.
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