By Andy Barr
Graduation affords seniors an opportunity to meditate upon the last four years spent in high school; the accomplishments, the successes, the learning, the hardship, and the failures.
For the rest of the school, graduation is a time for self-evaluation, a time to take stock of the progress one has made and set goals for the future. But graduation is by no means a time for excessive back-patting.
If the successes of our school were half as spectacular as our failures, we’d be much further up in the state and national rankings. But rankings are not the sole determinant of educational success.
Indeed, it is our unique brand of failure mixed with success that makes Prospect High School what it is.
In an effort to contribute to the graduation proceeding, I wrote a graduation speech (below) focusing on this very point, but ironically, it failed to make the cut. In closing, it has been an honor and a privilege to write for the Prospector and to work alongside some brilliant student editors, as well as the distinguished Mr. Jason Block.
To those of you who over the last four years read and commented on the blog and columns, thank you. To those of you who sent angry anonymous letters to my house, I traced the letters.
I know who you are.
It was not so long ago that we were all very small children. At that time, we represented to our parents – and to the world – unlimited, untapped potential.
We were tiny untested creatures who held the promise of great success in everything we tried.
Now, high school graduation speeches often revisit this notion of unlimited potential, motivating graduates with phrases like “nothing is impossible”, “shoot for the stars,” and “follow your dreams.”
This speech, unless I get carried away, will avoid such trite and overused expressions.
After all, by now, all of us have tasted disappointment and encountered personal limitations. Many people define success as the attainment of wealth, favor, or high rank.
If this is what success means, then, at one time or another (and more often than not), success has eluded each and every one of us. In short, friends, family, faculty, honored guests, we’ve all failed.
Let’s face it, not everyone can have a grade point average well above 5 or score in the upper 30s on the ACT. Not everyone can win a college scholarship or be accepted to an ivy-league university.
Not everyone can have the lead role in a Prospect musical or drama production or be a featured soloist in a Prospect music ensemble.
Not everyone can be a standout athlete in one or more of the many Prospect sports teams. Not everyone can be a key member of whatever Prospect activity he or she participates.
Let me be clear. It is certainly noble to strive to attain such goals, but to entirely base the notion of success on any of these alone is ultimately to invite frustration, disappointment and resentment.
During our four years at Prospect, we have seen just how short-lived the attainment of wealth, favor and high rank can be. Many of our friends and family have lost their successful jobs during our nation’s economic downturn, while many plans for successful retirements have been drastically overturned.
Even successful public figures like Bernie Madoff, Tiger Woods, and our dear former governor – have been toppled amid clouds of scandal and corruption.
So what is success? I do not believe that Prospect High School embodies the standard definition.
Rather, I think, Prospect is more aligned to the quote from author Napoleon Hill, who said, “It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.”
When you help someone accomplish the difficult, when you cheer someone on or motivate them to do what they thought they could not, YOU succeed.
Whether they ultimately succeed of fail is immaterial. You can learn from their blunders and mistakes, and can improve upon what they do.
We have been most fortunate at Prospect to have been the benefactors of those who define their own success in how much they help us succeed.
As the old Buddhist saying goes, “When you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.”
The faculty and staff at Prospect, as well as our own families and friends, have lit lamps for each of us countless times, sometimes even sparking four-alarm fires. To them, we offer our sincerest gratitude.
But gratitude is not enough. Graduation is the time to contemplate our own definitions of success.
Will we dedicate ourselves entirely to the fleeting, often frustrating pursuit of wealth, favor and rank? Some of us will. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But we can also choose to focus on a more lasting and selfless success; that of helping others to succeed.
If we choose the latter, if we follow this framework for success that Prospect High School has exemplified for us each and every day, then for us, nothing is impossible as we shoot for the stars and follow our dreams.