Good evening, Dr. Reys-kamp, Dr. Robinson, Dr. Ferg-Carter, Monsieur Laurent, Dr. Johnson, honored guests, faculty members, parents, and fellow classmates,
As we take this major step in our lives, we must all ask the question, "What do I want to do now?" My answer is "I want to become successful." I think all of us want to be successful, though. The real question, then, is "What is success?" After searching for an answer myself, I would like to offer one person's view of the definition of success.
"Success" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived
This is to have succeeded.
I think Mr. Emerson pretty much had it all figured out. He addresses everything we need to know to be successful. We can learn from each of the parts of his definition and use them to guide our lives. With this guidance, we can strive to live a complete and satisfying life.
"To laugh often, and much." From where we sit, this may seem to be the easiest part of being successful, but as life's problems confront us, the first thing we forget to do is to enjoy ourselves. People tend to worry constantly: even when times are good, the first thing we think to do is complain or anticipate trouble, rather than enjoying the moment with a laugh as we should. Life will not be easy all of the time. We will all have hard times. It is important, though, that we bounce back from them. Don't worry too much about life; enjoy it. For those of us graduating tonight, having fun isn't a problem yet. We're still pretty good at it. However, if we worry too much, and don't take the time to have fun, we may miss one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of success. Finding the humor in life, and laughing, and enjoying it, will allow us to be happier and more successful people.
"To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children." The important thing here is not in having the respect and affection, but in the actions and characteristics we must have to win that affection and respect. We can earn the respect of intelligent people by working hard, making good decisions, being considerate of others, and by always striving to do the right thing. And, as admirable as these characteristics may be, Emerson was wise enough to see that true success requires something even greater than these. High achievers and workaholics often are able to win respect, but winning the affection of children takes a more well rounded person: one who is friendly, kind, and loving. Children cannot be impressed by our accomplishments -- they see what is in our hearts, in our character. They see the most important aspects of a good person. If they see the quality of our character, we truly have what it takes to be a success.
"To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends." While earning the appreciation of honest critics is very similar to winning the respect of intelligent people, enduring the betrayal of false friends is a much more difficult problem. We must all endure the hardships of life to be successful. Enduring the betrayal of false friends may be one of the most difficult hardships imaginable. It is unfortunate, but we will all likely have to deal with this in our lives, and it will not be easy. But, if we overcome this, we can survive almost any other challenge, and success will be ours.
"To appreciate beauty." If we live all our lives missing the beauty that is around us, no matter what our apparent accomplishments, we will not have had a truly full life. It isn't that it is hard for each of us to appreciate beauty; the problem is finding the time. I would remind everyone that we must make that time and recognize the beauty around us in whatever environment we find ourselves: in nature, in people, in art. But beyond merely appreciating beauty, it is also our duty to preserve the beauty we already have, and encourage the creation of beauty whenever we can.
"To find the best in others." Just as for beauty, it is not enough to merely find the best in others; we must seek to bring it out in them. Once we have found the best in someone, we should encourage that part of them to grow. The easiest way to make the world a better place is for each of us to do our part to help make those around us better.
Speaking of making the world a better place, we come now to the last point:
"To leave the world a bit better, Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived." Making the world "a bit better" is clearly one of the loftiest goals of a human life. Many of us, however, seem to think that achieving this is beyond our means, and that our lives have little or no positive effects. Emerson gives us many examples, ranging from the personal and common, to more broad and unique effects our life could have on the future world. We aren't, of course, limited to those suggested. There is an almost infinite amount of opportunities to help improve the world. The basic idea is summed up wonderfully by Emerson: "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded."
As we graduate tonight, and take another big step forward on the road of life, we try to look into the future to see what we are going to become, what we are going to make of ourselves. We want success, but as it turns out, success is not a single thing to be achieved. It is a combination of our happiness, our work, our determination, and our lasting imprint on the world.
To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; This is to have succeeded.