These were my remarks at the graduation ceremony for the Shrewsbury High School Class of 2019.
Members of the School Committee; administrators, faculty, and staff; parents, family, and guests; and, most importantly, members of the Class of 2019 – it is an honor and a privilege to address you this evening.
You are making SHS history tonight, as the first class to hold its graduation ceremony here, in the DCU Center arena. I was personally excited when this decision was made, as now I will be able to say that I, too, was onstage here, just like the following partial list of superstars:
Frank Sinatra (who gave the first performance in this arena, originally called the Worcester Centrum, when it opened in September 1982), Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Madonna, Prince, Elton John, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Journey, U2, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Kiss, Foo Fighters, Kenny Chesney, Snoop Dogg, Britney Spears, New Kids on the Block, Guns N’ Roses, Garth Brooks – and, in case you students haven’t heard of any of those people, also: Ariana Grande, Maroon 5, Carrie Underwood, and, Panic! At the Disco
That’s a pretty talented group to be part of, and Graduates, after tonight, you, too, will be able to count yourselves among the greats who have graced the stage at the DCU Center! So, at least we’ve got that going for us...
Having grown up locally in my hometown of Clinton, I actually attended my first ever concert right here: Phil Collins during his “No Jacket Required” tour on May 12, 1985, 34 years ago when I was a junior in high school. Of course, now that I’ve publicly revealed that fact, I guess I should no longer use it for one of the security questions to protect my online accounts – such as the snow day announcement codes. I also can’t say that my fondness for Phil Collins’s music has entirely stood the test of time, nor do I still listen much to the two other bands I saw here during that period of my life: Foreigner and Van Halen (and that was the Sammy Hagar version, in case the people my age are wondering).
Over time, the kinds of concerts that I have attended here have evolved. For example, a decade or so ago I was able to score tickets to see...The Wiggles! I saw them with my oldest daughter, who’s now a junior and who is here tonight somewhere – and I bet some of you were here at that concert with your parents, too (I can say there was a bit of a different vibe in the Wiggles crowd than with Van Halen). Because I married a Texan who loves country music, I’ve seen the Dixie Chicks and Sugarland here. And, in a little more than a week, I’ll be back here to see Pentatonix, as my daughters and wife love a cappella singing. Not a musical evolution that I would have predicted for myself during my high school years, for sure. Of course, I also never thought I would actually be “on stage” here, but here I am – and, given my lack of musical aptitude, it is a good thing for all that I’m not singing.
But, as Shakespeare reminds us, “All the world’s a stage,” and all of you will someday be “on stage,” in all types of actual or metaphorical arenas:
- performing an artistic part – or surgery;
- carrying out a military mission – or a business plan;
- making a political speech – or a critical repair;
- writing a book – or computer code;
- creating art – or a meal;
- teaching a class – or a lesson to your own children.
It does not matter how small or large your arena may be, but it will matter whether you choose to take the risk to be vulnerable and get onto your stage so that you may share your talents. You need to be vulnerable to do this, because there is always the risk of failure. But there is more risk if you don’t take those chances. The researcher and author Brené Brown asserts, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.”
Brown uses the metaphor of the “arena” because she was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, known as The Man in the Arena, in which he declared that it is not those who sit on the sidelines and criticize others – but only those who take the risks and make the efforts to use their talents for important reasons – who are true successes. Roosevelt famously said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
So, tonight in this arena, as you not only cross this physical stage, but also into a new stage of your lives, I ask that you consider Brown’s and Roosevelt’s challenge: that you dare to live lives where you strive to be your best selves in your own arenas, whatever they may be – and to share your talents, however imperfectly, in service to a greater good.
On behalf of everyone in the Shrewsbury Public Schools, congratulations and best wishes. Thank you.