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I want you to know before I begin “YOU ARE in the presence of greatness.”
There is no one sitting in this auditorium more capable than you. There is no one here who can do more than you can to make your life, my life and the lives of the people here better than you can.
“You are in the presence of greatness” because you are great. Each of you should know you can be anyone you want to be; do anything you want to do; get any job you want and then, most importantly, help pay my social security when I retire.
Good evening, Mark Twain once said “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
Dr. Follins, Dr. Dove, Dr. Hamilton, Dr. Wood, parents, inductees, friends, fellow faculty and students, thank you for being here. Tonight many of you will be inducted into one of the most prestigious organizations among colleges and universities. It is not an easy task to become a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Being selected is an honor, but not everyone accepts that honor. This is a bridge in life you’ve chosen to cross, and I want you to take a few words I hope will resonate as you appreciate, “You are in the presence of greatness.”
When Ms. Daughterly asked me to speak, I asked what should I talk about. She did a number on me—played to my vanity. “Choose anything. I trust you” she said. Okay—so tonight, WTF. Tonight I’m going to talk about three things.
First, the ‘w’, I’m going to ask you ‘why you are here.” Second, the ‘t’, i’ll ask you to “think about the why.” And lastly i’ll challenge you with the ‘f’, to ‘find’ a way to make a difference. You can make that difference because you’ll learn why you are here. You will think about the reason God placed you here tonight, and lastly you have the courage to find a way, to do something because the reason I’m in the presence of greatness is because I’m in your presence. You feel me?
I’m the father of two boys. One is 24, the other is 21. I consider myself a good dad because both are still alive, off my payroll and contribute to my social security. I often think one of the reasons I’m still here is because they still need me, or maybe it’s the other way around. I can learn from them. YOLO.
Teaching is my passion. Students share things I can’t imagine, like a dual-credit student who said the song ‘Seasons of Love,’ from Rent, was about more than wasting too many of the five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes we have in a year to just text or instant-gram. Rather to use some of those minutes to tell someone you love them. She said that the song is about the seasons love goes through. Keep that in mind as you think about why you are here…in this audience… tonight. Ask yourself “What does God have planned for me? Who can I help?” Here’s a quick quiz to help you think about the person you might be.
It’s a cold rainy night.
You’re driving your car and you pass a bus stop. You see three people waiting for the bus.
There’s an old lady who looks like she’s about to die. Imagine she’s older than me. Okay? There’s also a friend who once saved your life. Maybe it’s your best friend. The third person is the ‘perfect partner’ you have been dreaming about.
You have room for only one passenger in your car. Who would you choose?
Sometimes you have to be prepared to make decisions like this in an instance. Think!
If you don’t choose the old lady, she’s probably going to die. But you have an opportunity to repay the friend who saved your life. Still, you have the chance to be with your perfect mate and live happily ever after. [No 50 shades of gray here] Opportunities like this don’t come often…. Tough isn’t it?
Before you chastise yourself too much, this is what a job applicant said. “I would give the car keys to my friend; let him take the lady to the hospital; stay behind and wait for the bus with the partner of my dreams.”
WOW! Amazing yeah?
Who would of thought of that? Learn to think outside the box. Understand life is about choices. Understand why you are here. Before you do your next tweet or post a picture of me tonight on your Facebook page, hashtag “Minutes to give,” remember, you have over 414 thousand minutes left in this year. In your life, you will see lots of people waiting at bus stops. Be prepared. Use your minutes wisely, even your rollover ones.
Once you realize why you are here, think about what you can do with that knowledge. Knowledge is power, and those with access to knowledge go real far.
Yet, many people go through life rudderless. They have no direction. They sit on their previous accomplishments; live in an X-Box of delayed gratification; or Facebook of despair. Some look at their lives and think WWJD. I’ll tell you what Jesus would do—He’d tell you to get up off your lazy ass and do something—can I say that? I guess I did. Anyway He’d want you to get your act together and do something. Look at the Super Bowl. Not sure if any of you saw that, but it was a classic example. As they say in Texas, I didn’t have a dog in that hunt. I went to the University of Tennessee, the ‘real’ UT; Peyton Manning is “my man” and the Broncos didn’t’ make it. So I was like, anybody but the Patriots, inflated or deflated, “who cares?”
Just as I thought the game was over, a young man changed everything; a young man who went to a community college; a young man whose grades weren’t the best; who’d cleaned toilets; was a work study and worked at Popeye’s. This young man knew why he was in the Super Bowl and snatched victory from the hands of someone who thought he had a touchdown. That young man was Malcolm Butler and made people realize they were in the presence of greatness! Tonight, realize you too are in the presence of greatness —your own. Know, as the author of Desiderata said “You are a child of the universe; no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” Dream your dream. Follow it. Claim your greatness. Read about Malcolm Butler. Think about why you are here and what’s your super bowl?
Having thought about ‘why’ you are here; remember there’s no one like you on earth. God broke the mold when she made you, and if you’re like me, a few cameras were broken taking those endearing pictures your parents want to show of you later in life, especially the ones of you without a blanket or diaper. Now forget that image, as you focus more specifically on your purpose as we move to my last point, as I challenge you to “find a way to make a difference,” i’ll end with another student story:
“During this particular student’s second month of college, the professor gave a pop quiz. This student breezed through the questions, as I’m sure a lot of you would, but he was stumped when he read the last one: "what is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" The student thought it was some kind of joke. He’d seen the cleaning woman several times.
She was tall, dark-haired in her 50s, but how would he know her name? The student handed in his paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward the quiz grade.
"Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello."
A few years ago Sarah Van Sciver asked me to speak at a Judson National Honor Society Ceremony where I told the same cleaning lady story. Later that year Sarah became the valedictorian at Judson. Three years later, she graduated magna cum laude from Texas A & M and invited me to her graduation reception. Her face lit up when she saw me, and before I could congratulate her she told me the ‘first’ name of one of the cleaning ladies at A & M. For a moment my breath left me. I was touched. For a teacher, it doesn’t get much better than that!
It really doesn’t take much to make a difference. Just know that you can!!!
Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said “Here’s a test to see if your mission in life is complete. If you are alive, then it isn’t.” We are here to teach others to soar!
As each of us, in our own way, prepare to fly remember to: first, ask yourself ‘Why,’ you are here; second, ‘think’ about that why. And lastly ‘find’ a way to make a difference even if it’s just to give someone a ride, smile or say hello. You got this! Don’t let anyone tell you differently!
Take Pope Benedict XVI’s words with you, “The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”
Well that’s it.
I told you at the start, you are in the presence of greatness. What you choose to do about that is left up to you.
Good luck, and wherever you go, think WTF, people are in the “presence of greatness” because you are there!