Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Reaching up, Reaching out

Coming to terms with better than average high-school students.


I have the honor of being the keynote speaker this evening for the Kiwanis Club's banquet for graduating seniors who have been a part of the Key Club service organization (Kiwanis for high-school folks). I was probably asked for two reasons. The first is that it is no secret locally that I like to give speeches and will do so if asked. The second reason is that I am the faculty adviser for CKI (Kiwanis for college folks, formerly Circle K), and they would like me to use this as a recruiting tool to maintain members in the club. I think I accomplish that in the speech below while simultaneously honoring these extraordinary young people.

Reaching up and Reaching Out

I. Exordium:

You students who we rightly honor today have done a marvelous thing. I’m not talking about finishing high school. While that is a rite of passage and a moment worthy of celebration, it is not in and of itself amazing. More than 75% of all people your age in the United States will accomplish that this year. While cynics will decry that the other 25% should have graduated as well, I will point out to them that only 20 countries in the world have a higher rate and that they do so only by excluding from high-school the sick, the delinquent, the physically and mentally challenged and those who struggled in lower grades. Certainly nearly everyone in South Korea, for instance, who begins high-school finishes high-school, but very few are allowed entrance. No, in the United States we do not exclude people from opportunity. We give everyone the chance to try, knowing that some will fail.

It is no marvelous thing, then, that you succeeded where most do. What is marvelous is that in so doing, you also reached out to aid the struggling.  The marvelous thing is that others will also follow in your footsteps because you did not just press on toward your goal, but lifted others. Many people achieve marginal success in life, but it is the truly great who do so while helping to ease the path of others. That is what you have done, and THAT is why we celebrate you here tonight.

II. Narratio:

The average student works hard. The average student has to balance the demands of school, the activities of their families, the extracurricular activities of sports and clubs, the excruciating demands of a high-school social life and for most of you, a part time job. We know from careful demographic research that the average student today has more of his or her day scheduled than has been the case in the history of the United States. We cannot hold liable those thousands of 18 year olds graduating this year who have done nothing to aid their community, nothing to help the helpless, nothing to repair what has been destroyed. They have, undoubtedly been too busy.

The thing is, that the students we honor tonight have been just as busy. Into that busy-ness they have also  placed into their lives another commitment, a commitment to service. They have not only reached out to pull themselves from where they were but they have reached out. These are a special group we honor today. They are truly among the best in our nation.

III. Partito:

If I can, I would like to exhort these students on to further good works. I would like to talk to them about the opportunities that are available. Finally, I would like to warn them that, as there has been in the past, so there shall be in the future, barriers to service.

IV. Confirmatio:

A. As you go forth from your high-school, you immediately have more choice in your life than you’ve ever had before. For some of you, further education at a University or college awaits. For others, you may go directly into careers. For others, a time of military service, or even a military career may be your plan. These are all honorable endeavors if they are approached honorably. And the first piece of advice I give you is that you truly do make this decision honorably and with careful thought.  As a college professor I’ve seen too many brilliant and talented young people destroying their lives because college is not what they want to do, but they feel forced by certain social norms of their parents’ peer groups. No, while most students graduate, fewer than 25% go onto college and those that don’t often have satisfactory lives anyway.

B. But once you have made that decision, seek out places where you can continue your life of service. If your choice is to go directly into the work force, don’t let the new job stop you from becoming something more. Maintain your activity in the community. Joining groups such as Kiwanis right away will help you from sliding off into the “too busy” world and becoming, merely, average. Religious organizations and other community groups can help as well. For many who join the military, their life of daily service seems enough, and in truth, it is. Our military men and women are the most self-sacrificing people in the world, and anyone who does not honor them for this service alone is an ungrateful fool. But still, even your spare moments, make sure that you continue to stay connected to the community you serve and come to know the women and men you are protecting. Finally, for those of you heading into college, you too must continue to serve.  There are many community and religious organizations on every campus which do amazing things for their community. I am one of the faculty advisors for CKI, and I would love to see you join our organization if you come to WNMU. And even beyond that, continue to serve. WNMU has just begun offering Service Learning courses, courses which incorporate what you’ve been learning in the classroom into community service projects. Many other universities have been doing so for more than a decade. The average college student avoids these like the plague. They require more time, more dedication, and most dreaded, working with other people. I challenge you NOT to avoid service learning classes. I challenge you to be the college students who seek them out, who think stuff learned in the classroom is great, but making it work in real life is better.

C. (Refutatio) Finally, I want to warn you about the dangers of your new stage. In truth, these are not new dangers, you’ve heard about them your entire life. There is a monster which stalks our service at every turn. That is the monster of BUSY-NESS. As busy as you are in high-school, you will be more busy afterwards. When I talk to students who tell me that they are not busy, I usually find it is because they are not doing their homework, especially their daily reading. Studies, families, careers, television, Facebook and everything else in our lives calls our unceasing attention away from service. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, if a person let their kids starve so they could feed the homeless, there’d be something wrong. Still, for many being busy becomes an excuse, then a way of life, then a form of slavery.

V. Peroratio:

But I hope for more than that from you. You have already distinguished yourselves from the average rif-raf graduating all over the country this year. You have already shown through your activities in Key Club that you are truly cut from better cloth than most people. You have shown that you step up to the plate to make the world a better place. That is why we honor you today. We honor you because you have shown yourself honorable. We don’t mere celebrate you getting through high-school, but we thank you for all your service.

Edited 5/4/12 because of a particularly embarrassing spelling mistake. I apologize for that one!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I wish I could have heard you present it!