This post is the text of a speech I gave at a junior high awards ceremony a few years back. It is especially relevant today as COVID-19 reshuffles the deck.
Welcome. Thank you for inviting me to speak. Parents and extended family, thank you for your part in their success. Strong parental involvement is a great predictor of student success. Students, to get here you have demonstrated you can LEARN. In fact, you are here because you are all excellent learners. You have learned how to do any number of sophisticated tasks. But the ability to learn mainly suggests the ability to follow directions, to memorize things. You have the potential to move on from where you are today. And to do so I believe you must consistently and persistently do the following three things: Think, Fail, and Love. · You must be able to THINK FREELY · You must be willing to FAIL PRODUCTIVELY · And you must choose to LOVE DEEPLY Thinking freely does not diminish learning. It enables you to use what you learned to figure things out. TEN years from now there will be jobs that don’t exist today. We don’t know what they will be, so we cannot teach you today how to do them and you cannot learn how to do them today. But if you are able to think you can figure out what to do when that time comes. If you are able to think you can ask the right questions. You can discover. You can invent. Thinking freely enables you to see a need and take the necessary actions to benefit others. Thinking freely also means you will FAIL. If you think freely, if you ask questions, if you try to discover, try to invent, you will fail. But FAILING is the only path to success. If you never try, you will never discover, never invent. You may never ask questions. This is safe, but boring and an egregious waste of your minds. The trick to failing is to fail productively. I did not grow up in Minnesota so I did not learn how to ice skate. When I first moved here I decided to give it a try. It was kinda fun, but I didn’t know how to stop or turn. So I either crashed into the wall or I fell. I fell often and I fell hard. So I decided I would not fail at skating anymore. You know what I did? I put away the skates. I have not failed since. If I continue with this choice it will be impossible for me to fail, but there is no way I can achieve success either. For me to learn to ice skate I have to learn from my mistakes. I have to be willing to fail productively. So how do we ensure we fail productively? That’s where LOVING DEEPLY comes in. If we think freely, there is no guarantee we will be doing good things with our thinking. We can be unloving and exercise free thinking. Hitler comes to mind, so does the scam artist who just stole someone’s identity, or the person who figured out how to open your locker and steal your phone, or even the person who talks behind your back. Each of these examples exercised thinking, but none made a positive difference. None failed productively. That is because none love deeply by their actions. So when we think freely, we MUST love deeply if we are to make a positive difference. So I challenge you to make a positive difference. I challenge you to think freely, to fail productively, and to love deeply. And as successful as you have been, you are in the position to make a positive difference largely because of your parents. They have not been perfect. No one is. But a very strong reason you are in this auditorium today is because your parents have thought freely, failed productively and loved you deeply. Keep it going and pass it on.