"Failure is Not a Monster to be Afraid Of": My Recent Speech at a High School Graduation

High school graduation speeches are often so much, "rah, rah, rah!" cheerleading, that they can
probably make at least a few high school graduates unnecessarily feel like failures.  So, as a member of the American Leadership Academy (Spanish Fork, Utah) board of trustees, when I was asked to speak at graduation, I prepared an unconventional high school graduation speech.  I told them about how difficult high school was for me.

The mission of ALA is to “partner with families to provide comprehensive educational experiences, character development, [and preparation] for college and career readiness.”

On behalf of the ALA board of trustees, I congratulate each of you graduates and your families for contributing to that mission. Now, I also wish each of you courage, because your lives are about to change. High school was a long time ago for me, but I remember that change well.

This year marks 35 years since I graduated from high school. Two things caught me by surprise at my last class reunion--that I got really excited and nervous about seeing my old friends and classmates again, and that I thought I had come to the wrong place, because all I could see when I got there were a bunch of old people!

But beware: the first 18 years of your lives will soon seem like an eternity compared to the next 35, because the older you get, the faster your years seem to fly by.

But no matter how fast they fly, you’ll never forget high school. I have some fond memories of high school, but I have many not-so-pleasant ones as well. I recently served for a year with the US military in Iraq, yet in some ways, the most traumatic years of my life were in high school. But I learned something from every one of those high school memories. Which, I guess, makes them fond memories too!

Congratulations to those of you have have participated in performing arts, which is a significant focus of the ALA charter. You have have achieved local, state, and national recognition. Thank you for the honor that you have brought to our school and to our community.

Congratulations to you who have served the school community as a member of student government. Whether as president, vice president, or other officer, you’ve developed great leadership skills through your service.

Congratulations to those of you have participated on one or more of our athletic teams. You’ve achieved several hard-fought goals, including the winning of region or even state championships in recent seasons. Thank you for doing your best to represent American Leadership Academy.

Congratulations to those of you who have excelled in academics. Some of you are Sterling Scholars. The highest ACT score this year by an ALA student was 35 out of 36. A few of you have already finished your college associate degrees. As a group, so far you have qualified for over $700,000 of college scholarships. Thank you for the positive recognition you have brought to your school.

Some of you may have even excelled in all of these areas.

And then...some of you might be a little bit more like I was in high school. And that’s okay, too.

I was too shy in high school to even try out to be in a performing group. Somebody dared me to run for student government, so I did, but I lost.. I was on my high school football team for a while, but I spent pretty much all of my time on the sidelines. I got cut from the basketball team my junior and senior years. I got fairly good grades, but I was far from a Sterling Scholar, and my ACT scores were mediocre. And let's not even talk about the troubles I had asking girls out on dates!

I got to the end of my high school years and part of me was glad that it was over, but part of me looked back on all the things that I wished I had done differently.

But you know what? 35 years later, I’m okay! I’m satisfied with what I accomplished in high school, even though I could have done more. My high school career helped to define me, but it did not place limits on me. No matter what you did or didn’t achieve in high school--if you don’t already, one day you'll look back on your high school years with fond memories.

Failure is not a monster that we ought to be afraid of. Its lessons ought to be warm and comfortable friends--as warm and friendly--and okay-- as our successes.

I encourage the class of 2016--and every ALA graduating class--to make sure that class reunions happen every five years or so, no matter how far away your lives take you. As the years go by, class reunions may be your only opportunities to catch up with some of the best friends--including the best memories--you ever had.

Not one brick of the high school that I went to is still in place, yet my memories make me proud of the school that taught me so much. I hope, 35 years from now, that each of you can likewise still have a special place in your heart for American Leadership Academy.

Congratulations 2016 graduates.


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