Commentary: Last Time for Everything


Accomplishments are always a reason to celebrate, and few occasions are quite as significant as high school graduation. The most important thing you hear when you graduate will be: your name. The least important message you hear will be delivered by the graduation speaker. If the speaker is smart he or she will keep the message brief and challenge graduates to find their passions, define and chase success, and be ready for the real world.

Recognize your talent or passion. Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century British Prime Minister, once said, “Man is only great when he acts from passion.” It is important to realize that you can do what you love with your life. Passion is your GPS system for life. Your life does not belong to your parents, your teachers, or your political leaders. You will have to be realistic in deciding if you can turn your passion into the career or lifestyle you want to live, and decide how to make that happen. There is no playbook for your life, except to live it to the fullest every day. I use a guidebook called the Bible to help me. The truth is that your passion will change. I love to write, but in High School I did not have that passion. So expand your horizons and your passion may grow or change. It will take courage to grow into that which you have the capacity to become.

Don’t buy society’s definition of success. Before you can achieve success, you will have to define what success means to you. In his book Born to Win!, Zig Ziglar, an expert on success, motivation, and leading a balanced life, contended that success cannot be defined in one sentence, but instead it is comprised of many things. He said: “One could argue that the definition depends on the individual and one size does not fit all.” Success is not the opposite of failure. In fact, learning from failure is part of the key to success. Wealth, prosperity and fame do not define success. Colin Powell said: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Be ready for the real world. Ellen DeGeneres said live “life with integrity” and to “not give into peer pressure” to be something that you are not. One Tennessee teacher sent me a rather profound statement. She wrote: “The real world is tough. There are trials and tribulations at work, and a constant need for prayer. Whether it is challenges my students face, or the overwhelming pressures in the teaching world, I pray that positives will outweigh the negatives…Disease, sudden illness, cruelty towards another human…it’s hard to understand the harshness of the world.” There is “too much hate, lack of empathy, and a sense of entitlement.” She added, “Be kind to one another. Love one another. Slow down and appreciate the small things, and be thankful. We need more love and understanding. Tell those you care about that you love and appreciate them. You never know when that opportunity will be gone.”

There is a last time for everything. High school graduation is one of those really special occasions and it is worthy of a special effort to make it memorable. Look around and soak it all in at graduation. You will never be in this place again, with the same people. Hug your friends and family extra tight, and take the time to spend with those who celebrate your accomplishment.

Etienne de Grellet, a Quaker missionary wrote:

“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

That is excellent advice for life. Congratulations graduates you earned it.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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One Thought to “Commentary: Last Time for Everything”

  1. Claudia Henneberry

    Yes, congratulations, graduates! You shall truly not pass this way but once! Beautifully said, J. C. Bowman.