Although it was 61 years ago that my high school band broke into "Pomp and Circumstances" and my class and I marched into the gymnasium and up on the stage to receive a piece of paper that signified the entire world to us, I still tear up. Some things just stay with you forever. I'm not sure that I can even find that piece of paper now, but the memory is intact.
That memory was filled with joy, with pride, a bit of fear, apprehension, questions, a sense of freedom - oh, so many things. And a great big smile on my face. The Future began with the next step I took. It was a confident step and yet I took it with a certain amount of trepidation.
I was no longer a "kid" who could "get away" with things because I was a kid. At 17, I was somehow expected to have morphed into an "adult", being responsible for myself, for my future. I suddenly became aware that, is spite of the normal turmoil of being a teenager, I was now heading into a new world in which I was finally "in charge".
As high schoolers cross this boundary in 2013, I suspect many things are different, in terms of "things". We didn't have a cell phone in our possession at all times, but we had a radio at home and even in our cars. We didn't have a variety of fast-food drive thru's where we could pick up the current juicy food fad, but we did have an Upton's, where we could drive up and order a malt and a delicious hamburger or a marshmallow nut sundae with chocolate ice cream.
Yes, there were a lot of things we couldn't do in those days because they hadn't been invented or discovered yet, or just hadn't been thought up by some enterprising person. But we made it okay, and we didn't realize how underprivileged we were.
We were just kids moving from one phase of our lives into a new world that promised us all the dreams we could have, suddenly realizing that it was now our responsibility to work toward those dreams. We had been nursed along by parents, relatives, teachers and others and now we would have to fly on our own, or fall; our choice, our decision.
The adults in our world had done what they could to teach us responsibility, so we wouldn't have to lean on any other person. They taught us the difference between right and wrong, so that when we were tempted in one direction, our decisions would be ones that would lead us down that "road not taken" Robert Frost wrote about. We were taught, whether we went to church or not, that we should always treat others as we would want to be treated. The Gettysburg Address was memorized at various junctures in my education.
As our young people take their diplomas, I hope - no, I Pray - that they will realize the awesome responsibility that has now been placed on them by loving relatives, teachers, and friends. Whatever you accomplish with your lives, whether good or bad, is totally up to you. Do not look behind you, to see who is now pushing you, or encouraging you. Do Not look behind you to see who you can "blame" for mistakes you will make.
Always look forward, take your life a step at a time. The direction you go will now be totally up to you. If you should misstep, learn from that and move in another direction. If you have paid attention, hundreds of people have attempted, in their own way, to guide you around life's little tests.
By the way, avoid focusing on a mistake; none of us will get through this life without having made a bunch of them. The thing is, what's done is done, and you can't change it. From this day forward, one day at a time, you will be in charge.
And don't even try to make excuses. "We were poor", "my parents didn't care", "my ethnicity held me back". Too many people these days fall on excuses for bad behavior. More kids must learn that in this country, you truly are hindered only by your own personal determination for success, however you see that.
In this country you can still dream dreams. Don't "expect" something from anybody but yourselves. It is your life. Don't expect to win the lottery; don't expect to find a magic bottle with a Genie in it. Those are pipe dreams. Dreams are solely of your making. Don't rely on "luck", either. It will fail you, too.
This is your chance to prove to those who doubted you. This is your chance to thank those who believed in you. The bottom line is, never expect to be "perfect". A waste of your life; however, always strive to reach out into the direction of "perfect". Reach out for those dreams.
May God bless each of you as you embark on a beautiful journey.