Hello National Honor Society members and inductees, their parents and guardians, teachers administrators, and community members. I am honored to be selected to speak tonight, and I thank you, students, for choosing me to present.
In my nearly billion and a half seconds of life, I have picked up some lessons, and I want to share that encouragement with you.
First of all, you are constantly making split-second decisions, and the decisions are actually quite simple: they are either for your and others’ benefit or for your and others’ detriment. I congratulate you on making up your mind somewhere along the line in your approximately 555 million seconds or so of life to have consistently made decisions that benefit you and others. That truly is a big deal and should be celebrated just as joyously as your birthday. So many fall to the decision of desolation at a young age, and they can turn into adults who live cynical lives with little or no hope. So many listen to their inner critic who says, “You can’t do that.” or “No one else is doing it this way.” or “This moment right now doesn’t matter.” You did not fall into that temptation. People who value time value themselves because they know there are only so many seconds in a day and each tick matters until the last tock.
Being inducted into National Honor Society shows that you have outstanding character. Being an English teacher, I love characters and details in fiction and nonfiction, and that’s why I love seeing those who exhibit responsibility in all matters big and small or who can be trusted to follow through on what they promise or who tell the truth rather than hide behind a lie. It takes great inner courage and reflection to take the path of allowing others to rely on you. Character stays with you for your whole life. It’s what others notice. It’s what gets you scholarships, friendships, offers you a start in a career. All of you have proven to have exemplary character through your interactions in and out of school. Character is not GPA. It is what you have sacrificed to get that grade point average. It is the late nights and early mornings and the juggling of your schedule to meet deadlines; it is taking time to follow through on the demands of extra-curricular activities; it is knowing your family needs you to do your part to make your household run smoothly. It is found in reaching out to others with a hello or in listening to another in conversation. You matter, and so do others, and what you do matters to others. What you do inspires others because of your character..
Scholarship is another area that is more than GPA; it is learning at a high level. Scholarship is an outlook of curiosity, of asking questions and finding the answers because you have a natural love of knowledge. Some of the greatest personal joys include finding your interest niche in this gigantic world of opportunity. Do you remember as you prepared to write your career paper, you were asked to write a freewrite detailing some of your favorite play as a child? And do you remember in another writing you were asked to share your dreams about what you hope your family will be like one day? How your daily life will look? Where you will travel? How you hope to spend your time when you have a career? Those assignments encouraged you to reflect on the cherished parts of your past and encouraged you to picture what you want and don’t want in your future, so you can find a career that merges what you value with your aptitudes. Scholarship is not just studying for the big test. Rather, scholarship is knowing that each second you are being tested about how you are spending your time because once it is gone, it cannot be gotten back. But the good news is that whenever you want to revamp how you spend your time, one split-second has you back on the right path.
Leadership is a rare gift. It really is. How many people are visionaries who can see how to solve problems and then implement a useful solution? Leaders do not allow themselves to stay stuck in the muck of rumor, envy, uncooperativeness, knowitallness without the courage to do what is best. And worst of all hopelessness. Leaders know that perfection is impossible, but that hope is imperative. That’s right. Hope is imperative. As leaders, I envision each one of you as adults sharing that hope and taking care of your family and other families by serving on school boards, library boards, hospital boards, the city council, scholarship committees, being advocates for those whose voices are not being heard, heading fundraising events for community upgrades, mentoring youth, making the elderly’s lives comfortable. I envision you as being the go-to people of others who need help and guidance. You are leaders now, and you will be leaders later in life because these traits do not disappear; they expand. Leaders who care are needed in the world you will be raising your children in. Take that responsibility seriously. It’s a gift others need you to share.
My final point is what I hope sticks with you for the rest of your lives. Honor without action is selfish egoism. It goes nowhere except to your head. Do accept the accolades of others. You deserve to be congratulated on being pillars of the Storm Lake High School. But do not allow arrogance into your being because arrogance leads you away from selfless service. If you are arrogant, you do not care about others, you care about only yourself,and what a lonely, dark life that is.
This is what I want you to remember for the rest of your lives. Honor with action is selfless sacrifice. It is service. When you agreed to apply for National Honor Society, you reflected on and categorized your accomplishments during your 14th through 17th or 18th or 19th years of life. I am hoping you saw the pattern of sacrifice that came with those accomplishments. You took risks by trying new clubs or extra curriculars, by finding jobs, by maintaining a high GPA. Those are all practice for adulthood. Do not undermine the value of these split-second decisions to be resilient. Your cooperation as role models encourages your peers and siblings and probably your parents and teachers and neighbors to strive to be their best. If we have a whole school of students doing their best despite suffering from injuries, illness, loneliness, losing loved ones, moving, their families going through divorce or remarriage or arguments or rough financial times, or even being abused or neglected we will have resilient students who become resilient adults who teach their children to be resilient.
If there is one aspect of this ceremony that I wish I could change it is this: I wish it were done in front of our entire student body. Yes, entire. Preschool-high school. Year after year after year of the formal solemnity of this event would get embedded into each student’s heart who watches with awe and reverence as students like you are inducted into National Honor Society, and they can begin to dream they too will one day be a part of this elite ceremony.
I hope, just like I do everyday in the classroom, that you take something from my words. I thought long and hard about what to say, and I want to end with this. You make me proud. You make Storm Lake High School proud. You make our community proud. I can’t wait to hear how you change the world for the better because you have continued your commitment to scholarship, character, leadership, and service well into your own retirement from your career..When you are at your nearly billion and a half seconds of life, may you be able to reflect on your decisions and find that others have thanked you for how you have made their lives better.