Class of 2020 Graduation Speech
Below is the speech I wrote and sent to the graduating class of the high school I work at since they didn't have a traditional graduation of their own...I hope it touches you as much as I have been impacted by these tremendous students!!
Graduating Class of 2020…I know this is not how you wanted the year to end. Graduates, you truly hold a special place in my heart as many of you know that my daughter Hannah is graduating this year as well. I understand your anger over no prom, frustration over no senior all night party, and pain over no “real” graduation. Tears have been shed in my home and likely by many of you as well. I recognize that your hurt is real as many of you lost memories that you can never get back. I know these three months of loss mean so much, but remember high school was four years over 48 months. Your high school experience covers 48 long months and while it doesn’t replace what you lost, it’s important to focus on the 48 months because it shows you have worked so hard over a long time. I know you want those final pictures and goodbye hugs. You can still get them…it just might look a little different. Remember, I never got to truly say good-bye to you, I didn’t get to celebrate you at honors night, get some senior pictures, sign some yearbooks, get a pic with you at prom, and give you some last bits of advice so I thought this platform was the best way for that to happen. I never have been asked to give a graduation speech before, so look at this as my parting speech to the Class of 2020.
Graduates – today with cap and gown on you begin the next phase of life and yes, it has been quite a journey. You came into this world during the tragedies of September 11th and you leave in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic. Many of you may be fearful of what the world holds for you in the future. I assure you - don’t be... you’ve got this!! You will graduate in the midst of chaos! From floods and a health crisis, to racism, riots, and unemployment. We are a nation in crisis! We are a nation hurting, alone, and scared… You want the truth? The truth is…. we need you! Clearly, the leaders of today haven’t gotten things right when you came into this world and nothing has changed now. We need you to step up and stand in the gap and be the leaders of tomorrow. Why you? Because no group of graduates in recent memory has faced what you faced, gone through what you have gone through, and become better because of it. It is this that allows you to make the impossible possible and be the leaders to get our neighborhoods, communities, and nation back on track. We need you to be the positive contributors to society that our world so desperately needs.
Graduates – with this in mind I offer you five key points that comes from a list of fifty that I wrote awhile back as to how a teenager can thrive in this world. If you live them out each day, you can achieve great things in life. They may seem simple at first, but there are many layers to each of them…so really think through them…You see, I don’t want you to be just people living in our communities. We have enough people. I want you to be leaders. I want you to be difference makers. I want you to have impact and influence wherever you go whether that be a university, a community college, the military, or in the world of work. I want you to leave a legacy for the next generation. If you do these five things you will be well on your way to being the difference makers that our country needs.
#1)Learn How To Manage Your Time - There will only ever be twenty-four hours in a day and how you choose to use those hours will say a lot about you and the variety of opportunities you have moving forward in life. As you enter a career and the world of work, time management is not just about using your time wisely, it is about being able to multi-task and accomplish things in a timely manner. Learn to juggle many tasks simultaneously. Being timely is about completing tasks quickly, but also doing them extremely well and at a very high level. Being timely is thinking ahead and noticing tasks that are upcoming that need to be done without being told.
In your chosen career everyone is replaceable. There is always someone looking over your shoulder wanting your job, salary, benefits, vacation time, etc. Being skilled at managing your time to get job tasks done in a timely manner shows your value to a company and promotes the mentality that the company is better off with you working there because of the skills you bring to the table. Managing your time well to get things done shows an employer that you are reliable and dependable which are skills that are becoming more and more difficult to find.
Manage your time well. It will keep you disciplined and on task. Prioritize what is most important to get done and then come up with a focused plan to complete it. Soak in the joy of getting things done without the stress of a time crunch. Celebrate your success because if you are able to manage your time well it carries over to your time away from work. This is important because if you work hard you should play hard. Get the most out of out the time you have. Live with a purpose in life and be driven to achieve it – managing your time well will a long way in achieving it.
#2) Be Willing to Ask for Help - A mentality exists today that I believe has been growing at a rapid pace. People don’t want to ask for help. This has transpired in recent years because people are so worried about perception and what others think of them. This is best seen when taking a closer look at social media and what people post online. Most people only post pictures that present themselves in a positive light, in that each post causes the viewer to think better of them. Seldom do you see someone post an honest picture and comment about themselves. Most people post things online to ensure that people think highly of them. For example, if someone was in California for alcohol rehab they may post a picture of a California sunset instead of a picture of their treatment facility. It’s not that the world needs to know that they are in treatment, it’s really none of their business, but it does project a different image online when compared to the truth. These individuals view asking for help as a sign of weakness when a helping hand and a supportive group of friends could make life so much more manageable.
When life gets tough reach out to someone regardless of how great or small the need is. Too often we shy away from asking for help for fear that it would alter how a person sees us. We were created to be relational beings. We should desire to be with people. Living in community is helping other people and you seeking out help when you need it. When you need advice about car repairs, talk to someone about it. When you are seeking a new job, discuss it with someone in the field that interests you. Life is hard enough, don’t make it harder when it’s not necessary.
A real friend shouldn’t alter their view of you because you are seeking some help or guidance from them and if they do then they probably shouldn’t be your friend to begin with. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness because you don’t know something, it’s actually a sign of maturity because you are willing to admit when you don’t know something and then you go out and seek someone who has the answer. Make life easier for yourself and ask for help when you need it. Why? – Because life is already hard enough.
#3) Learn How to Deal With Failure - Life is hard. You will embark on many opportunities and experiences that you will try only to fall short of what you had expected the outcome would be. Don’t be too hard on yourself, failure will happen. I don’t care what you do to minimize failure, you can’t eliminate it. This is difficult for some to accept because when one pursues something with all of their being, they expect to be successful. When success in not the result, self-doubt and second guessing tends to creep in. Failure or an unexpected outcome in some ways is a positive. These setbacks shape the path of life you go down.
At some level you want failure to occur. When you fail, it is at that moment when real growth happens. This is what you want, certainly not the failure but you want the growth to see where the development and refinement is needed. This is when you are stretched to see what you are made of. If you don’t fail, it likely means your goals aren’t big enough. Think outside of the box and think big!
In order to get the growth from personal failures, you have to be willing to look inward. Failure forces you to examine your own shortcomings and missteps. You have to be honest with yourself and then make changes to do better. Failure lets you explore yourself and see what flaws need to be refined. At anything and everything you do, you should want to get better. How you embrace failure combined with your willingness to learn from it will go a long way in determining if measureable growth can occur.
Failure is unavoidable. Life is too hard to go without it. Embrace failure and next time it happens reframe it so that you see failure not as a setback but as a growing opportunity. This is when you really find the value in failing. It’s so hard to do, but so worth it if you can make it happen.
#4) Learn How to Set Realistic Goals - Most of us have big dreams in life. It might be to earn a college degree, get that dream job, own a home, get married, have kids, the list goes on. While these dreams are admirable at first glance they appear unattainable because of their scope. It’s not because they are too big, it’s because the mountain to climb to achieve them appears insurmountable. As you move through life keep those big dreams and let them serve as motivation, but set realistic goals along the way so they can be achieved.
Big dreams are great, but they are only truly worthwhile if you have a series of realistic goals along the way that you can achieve as you work toward your ultimate dream. These realistic goals allow you to experience the exhilaration of victory along your road to ultimate success. They also serve as motivation to encourage you to press on and keep working hard to turn your dreams into reality.
The ultimate dreams you have for your life can best be realized when you have a path that you can follow to get there. The dream is equally as important as the goals along the way because achieving each goal along the way allows that dream to come into greater focus. A plan to land that dream job is more probable when there is a plan to achieve it. Home ownership is more likely when you have a job that can afford the home you desire. Dreams become reality when they come with a series of goals that can be achieved along the way.
Many distractions can steer you off course. Our world offers obvious detours to force you to stray from the dreams you desire. The issue here is to keep the ultimate dream in mind while achieving short term goals. If you set achievable goals along the way you can realize you dreams. You can land the dream job. You can graduate from college. You can have the dream wedding. You can have a family of your own and live in your dream home. This is something we can all celebrate because of the goals you achieved along the way that made that dream more manageable.
#5) Relationships Require Effort and Priority - Our world today is in such a hurry that sometimes we lose perspective about what is important. We are constantly working, cleaning the house, doing laundry, shuffling the kids off to baseball practice, the list goes on. What ends up happening is we wind up putting people and the relationships we have with those people on the back burner. Meaningful relationships require effort and priority.
I have seen countless times where people desire to get together to have lunch and catch up on things but never do. Likely, it’s not because they don’t want to it’s because the busyness of life gets in the way. I am here to tell you that life is always busy. You will always have things to do. There will always be stuff that needs to be done. There will always be grocery shopping that needs to get done, grass to be cut, or laundry that needs to be folded and put away.
The fact is relationships and spending time with people will only matter if you place it higher on your priority list. Relationships are about connection and living life together. The lives of people is where we ought to make our biggest investment because of the long term impact that it can make in a person’s life.
You must make an effort to spend time with people. It sounds simple. Unfortunately too often we only reach out to people when we want something and not to grow and live life together. Prioritize people - that is the best way to ensure that you make time for the relationships you value. Don’t let tasks or responsibilities divert you from spending time with friends and family as that is so important to being healthy.
Prioritizing people in the midst of our busy lives provides us an outlet to decompress and escape the demands of home and the workplace; however, this escape can only be realized when we follow through and spend time with those that matter. People ought to rejuvenate us and encourage us to both be better and do better. This is only possible if we place greater emphasis on the relationships that can profoundly shape us over time.
Class of 2020 – These five points are things that I wish I knew and really understood when I was your age. It does not matter if you know these things, it only matters if you live them out. So many of you have gone through so much in life to be here today in a cap and gown. Some have lost a parent, some have battled financial issues at home, a personal health struggle, and the list goes on. Make the changes necessary to be the best version of yourself possible. Change is hard….it’s hard for adults as well. If you don’t like your story, write a new chapter! Don’t forget about where you have been both good and bad – it’s part of who you are, but don’t settle for anything but the very best, goodness knows the Class of 2020 deserves it!
You have endured much up to this point and it culminates in your senior parade and a virtual graduation. It may not be how you wanted it to end, but now you are in charge. You determine where you go from here and what you accomplish in life. This is not the end…this is the beginning of your first step towards greatness! You see, you dictate your impact and influence moving forward. You get to leave your legacy as you move forward in life. The Class of 2020 will always be remembered for how they ended high school and graduated. I wonder if they will be remembered for what they achieved in life five, ten, and even twenty years down the road. I assure you the world is watching to see what happens!! Time will tell, but I assure you that you are a resilient group of graduates and most importantly I do believe for all of you – the best is yet to come!
Congratulations Class of 2020! May you achieve great success in the years to come and may you spread your wings and fly while turning your dreams into reality! Yes, it will soon be that time… Time to hear your name be called as a graduate. Time to turn your tassel and yes… Time to celebrate! Why? Because you are high school graduates – and that is something that no pandemic can ever take away from you! Congratulations Class of 2020! God bless you all!!
With Great Respect for All of You,
Mr. Kuczynski (Mr. K)
PS – I want to hear of the greatness you achieve in the years to come!! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org