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136th Commencement

Good afternoon President Todd, distinguished guests, esteemed faculty, family, friends, and graduates of the class of 2003, it is a great pleasure and a special honor for me to be speaking with you today. What we have achieved today is unique – it’s an experience the vast majority of any given generation has neither the will nor the opportunity to enjoy. Rightly we should revel in our accomplishment!  On behalf of the senior class, I would like to thank you for joining us as we celebrate this turning point in our lives. 

As graduates of the University of Kentucky, we have attained a quality education along with a rich history of excellence that our school so boldly attained.  These successes could never have been brought to fruition without having quality individuals driven by high expectations toward common goals.  This, of course, is reflective of the quality professors and administrators here at the University of Kentucky.  Quality professors that have instilled in us direction, structure, and knowledge of skill needed to excel under the pressure of trying circumstances.  In addition, I would be amiss if I did not thank each and every family member for their endless sacrifice and support.  The senior class greatly appreciates everyone who has help make this day possible.

Once we leave here we will set out on various roads of life.  Some of us will improve upon the ones already built, while others will build new ones.  In preparation, we must always be sure to carry with us lesson we have learned here that will help us overcome adversities and insure continuing success.  From late nights in our W. T. Young library, lunch at K-Lair, springtime at Keeneland, and cheering at a basketball game we have built lasting memories we will always carry with us. 

Each one of us is proof of one of the valuable lessons learned that people who accomplish their goals rarely sit back and let things happen to them.  They go out and happen to things…and they achieve.  We can only achieve by seeking change and improvement.  This improvement we seek comes from the inside, with use of our integrity to basic principals.  Have you ever wondered what our society would be like if there were no great leaders?  If there were no Rudy Giulianis, Oprah Winfreys, Sam Waltons or Bill Gates?  Do you think their journey to the top was easy?  Never be content with average.  Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top.  If you strive for the top you are much more likely to one day be at the very top.  Is not the goal of life to achieve?  One cannot achieve without striving and being prepared.  We have developed our tool bags over the last years and it is time to take our different journeys and seek a path.  What we do with our lives will determine the kind of world we will leave for future generations. 

I know it is traditional for the commencement speaker to give advice, though I do not believe you need to hear advice.  As graduates from the University of Kentucky we have already accepted it, lived it, and made it our lives. We would not be if we had not totally committed ourselves to what this great institution represents. Which ever path you decide to choose after leaving this place that has nurtured and tortured and frustrated and urged you on, be it in the arts, sciences, communications, mathematics, or teaching, we must realize we are equipped with the  tools to be situated in our fields.  Whichever field you have chosen keep in mind we have the means to change the future of ideas.  Yes, this task bears a risk, this notion of making a difference, but I think we agree, life is about taking risks. We have taken them already, by choosing the University of Kentucky, choosing a path and navigating it successfully to this grand day, and now the risks begin to pay off.           

We all are celebrating this glorious day but must keep in mind to be this assured when adversities present themselves.  Adversities are always presenting themselves.  For example, basketball superstar Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team but now; he is one of the most well known athletes in the world.  Also, Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers.  The 28th publisher, Vanguard Press, sold 6 million copies of the book.  All of these people met defeat and challenged it by pursuing their goals with their determination.  Just think, if they had given up there would be no Air Jordan’s or Cat in the Hat. 

Helen Keller once said, “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome.  The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”  As each of us chooses our varied paths in life, I challenge you to prepare for life’s valleys with a most effective roadmap, the four goals of Life:  to live, to learn, to love, and to leave a legacy.                                   

Finally, I ask you to keep the words of R.L. Sharpe with you as you travel life’s journey.  His poem is titled “A Bag of Tools.”                     

Isn’t it strange?
That princes and Kings,
And clowns that caper
In sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?
Each is given a bag of tools
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules;
And each must fashion -
Ere life has flown -
A stumbling block
Or a stepping-stone.                                                                                     

This is your day, graduates.  You have a wonderful bag of tools, carry them with you and use them wisely.  Congratulations!