First, I want to congratulate all of the young people who have recently graduated from high school.
Second, as hard as it is to say, tomorrow, no one will care.
That doesn’t mean that what you have done for the last twelve years of your life doesn’t matter, but that what you have done is just the beginning. You have accomplished an important milestone, but it is a milestone that we all expected you to reach. You have achieved what most people consider to be the minimum standard for education.
And so you ask, “What’s next?” While your recent accomplishments are important, they are just the beginning. We expect you to do something with them. Up until now, what you have done has been mandated and required. Nearly every step along the way has been mapped out. Your education was paid for by your family, your friends and your neighbors because we believe in its importance. We paid for the teachers, the buildings, the administration, sports, protective gear, and the buses to get you there and back.
But tomorrow is up to you.
Tomorrow, a new chapter begins. This fall (or sooner) many of you will start your freshman year in college or begin trade school. Some of you will become apprentices to master trades people, some of you will begin working in a job of some sort, and a few of you may spend some time trying to “find yourself.” All of those things are okay but be warned, you have been given great gifts, life, health, education, and many other things, but the world is watching to see what you will do with them.
Of course, not every high school education, nor every student, is the same as every other. Some schools provided phenomenal opportunities and others struggled to exist. Some of you worked hard and some coasted through school.
But tomorrow is a new day, and the question everyone is asking is, “What will you do with it?”
Think of it this way. Every one of you has been given a home, a building, a place to being a new life. Granted some of you, by virtue of your parents, your school, or your own hard work, have been given more than others. Some of you have a small apartment and others a more spacious home, but all of you have a place to start. Today that home that you have been given is unfinished. The drywall isn’t finished, there’s no siding on the outside and nothing has been painted. Your new place, your life, is just a shell.
What it will become is up to you.
The building you have been given can become a library, museum, bank, school, hospital, factory… or a crack house.
By your eighteenth birthday, between your parents and your community, statisticians tell us that we have invested nearly a half million dollars in your life and education.
We have high hopes for your future.
Two or three months from now, no one will care where you went to high school or what your grades were like. What everyone cares about is your destination and how well you are doing. If you start working your boss will only care about how hard you work and how well you help her to accomplish her goals. Your past won’t matter. If you skip class, get drunk and flunk out of college it won’t matter whether or not you were a great student in high school. Likewise, if you work hard, at whatever you choose to do, no one will notice, or care, if you were a poor student in high school, if you had poor parents, or grew up in a town with two hundred people.
Tomorrow is entirely up to you.
We have invested in your life because we believe in you. We believe that you are capable of building something amazing. We believe that you can change the world. We believe that you can build factories, hospitals, banks or something entirely new and wonderful that none of us have ever imagined.
But today, none of that matters. Our hopes for you, our investment in you, don’t matter. All of your hard world yesterday doesn’t matter.
From here on we can only offer encouragement and the occasional helping hand.
Whether you build beautiful and wonderful things…
…or crack houses…
…is up to you.