As I do each year it is now my privilege to challenge the MHS graduating Class of 2016.
As I thought and prayed about what to say this year, there seemed to be three or four topics that bubbled to the top. And as I reflected more and more, I came to the realization that these topics were indeed what the Lord was impressing upon me to leave with you as you graduate from high school and begin the next journey of your life. They were: be a life-long learner, lead from your strengths, personal responsibility, and grit.
Life-long learner. A noted motivational speaker once said the person you’ll be five years from now will depend on two things: the people you meet and the books you read. Your learning must not stop with your graduation from high school or even college. Neuroscience confirms that our brains will begin to show signs of atrophy or loss of use if they are not exercised regularly, just like any other muscle in our body. The things you think you know are only a small part of the real body of knowledge. However, because of technological advances, it has never been easier to pursue and utilize new knowledge. Think Google?
To do that you must first allow your mind to expand and absorb new information. Clear your mind of assumptions and convictions so that you can be receptive to new information. Be eager to question new knowledge and research it further. After all, “everything on the Internet is true,” right? Think State Farm commercial.
However, as important as discernment is to life-long learning, so is preparing the mind. Just as farmers prepare their fields for the crops they plant, like farmers we must we must plant, water, and fertilize our minds to generate an area where information can burgeon and evolve. Your brains are like the farmer's soil. It needs irrigation. You must "water" daily to stimulate maturity in order to reap a bountiful harvest of information and enlightenment.
Many people are so consumed with their daily lives, that they are convinced there is no time to learn anything new. If we only do what is necessary to get by, we will inevitably fall into mediocrity.
Surround yourself with like-minded individuals and learn from them. Never be too pretentious, for each question you don’t ask is a missed opportunity!
I challenge you today to commit yourself to life-long learning, continue your education beyond MHS, and become a student for life. Use the world as your classroom. Every opportunity that comes your way, every person you meet, every mountaintop and every valley, will add to your collective wisdom. As I told my basketball players, there is no such thing as luck. Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. Be prepared for your opportunities. Life-long learning is one of the ways to prepare yourself.
Lead from Your Strengths. I recently read a blog that described leading from your strengths. The article highlighted Coach Vince Lombardi and his time with the Green Pay Packers. It said that he once held a four-day clinic for his coaches and spent two full days focusing on one play, the Power Sweep. Because of this one play, Lombardi, and his team won five league championships, which also included the first two Super Bowls.
The same article recounted that in the 90’s, the Utah Jazz only ran eight plays during their reign in the NBA. Carl Malone and John Stockton executed the pick and roll so well that they were nearly unstoppable. When I coached, we also only ran a few plays, but we tried to execute them to perfection. If we ran them better than you could stop them, we won.
Other examples cited were Alexander the Great winning three major battles because of one perfected maneuver, the right flank.
This next one is one we are familiar with here at MHS. Apple is known for their wonderfully designed and easy to use products, which have made the company widely popular.
In my experience as a coach here at MHS, my players will tell you that we had very few plays. But I learned from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, that we simply had to run our plays better than you could stop them. Every play was designed for success. It was up to my players to perfect the offensive or defensive strategy depending on their point of view. By the way, it worked for our basketball teams. We were blessed with incredible success during those years.
We live in a world that suggests we need more choices, more products, and be everything to everybody, but there is something very impressive about simplicity, precision, and leading with your strengths.
Ask yourself these questions. What are your talents? Where is your strength? What do you want to be remembered for?
Once you have those answers, you can begin to focus your time and energy on these areas, becoming a master of the fundamentals and becoming a stronger individual.
Personal Accountability. In my leadership class here at MHS called LEAD, the students read a book titled QBQ; the Question Behind the Question by John Miller. It’s about personal accountability.
By taking ownership of situations and seeing them through, you will exercise personal accountability. You can’t blame others if and when things go wrong. Instead, you do your best with the situation you are dealt with. Instead of focusing on the problem, you focus on the solution.
In John G. Miller’s book, he speaks about what to ask of yourself to eliminate blame, complaining, and procrastination. He discusses how people tend to blame others for personal and professional troubles. Miller believes in personal accountability – taking responsibility for one’s actions, problems, and feelings instead of blaming others.
Miller believes in changing the questions we ask ourselves from negative (Why do we have to go through all this change? Or, Who dropped the ball?) to more solution-based “I” questions (What can I do to contribute? Or, How can I help solve the problem?)
Finally, Grit. According to Webster’s Dictionary, grit is the firmness of mind or spirit; an unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger. I want to emphasize the resilient quality of grit. Grit is sticking with things over time and then working diligently to achieve it.
So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.” This idea was developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with your effort. We even coined a term FAIL (First Attempt in Learning). It turns out the old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” has merit. Students and adults that persevere are more likely to escape their “fixed mindset” (think of Winnie the Pooh’s Eeyore), and move on to success. GRIT helps develop resiliency - a growth mindset if you will. If you really want to learn something and are willing to pay the price, you will succeed. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, he says that everyone who is really good at something has practiced that something for about 10,000 hours. He bases this on his study of great athletes, high achievers, and others who excel at a proficiency level that others cannot match. These are the people who have frequently gone on to success. Because when opportunity came their way, they already had the requisite skills.
So Class of 2016, remember it’s not luck. It’s not wishing and hope. As I used to tell my basketball players – it’s preparation meeting opportunity.
Prepare yourself by becoming a life-long learner, lead from your strengths, practice personal responsibility, and as Coach Jim Valvano said, “Never, never, ever give up.” As long as you have life, you have possibility and potential.
Thank you and God Bless.