Godspeed, Class of 2016!
On June 2, 2016, Clinton High School held graduation and nearly 200 students walked across the stage from high school student to high school graduate, a process that took mere seconds in reality and yet nearly 13 years for all practical purposes. As I reflect on this experience, I know our efforts have come to an end and the class is ready to assume its place on a firm academic footing; however, I recognize there is far more to life than mere content knowledge. As I bid them adieu to take their places at colleges, universities, the military, or the work force, I want to impart them three easy-to-remember life characteristics to assist them as they navigate life’s shoals. Being graduates of Clinton High School, the mnemonic device to remember is really easy—C-H-S! Choice is the “C.” You see, life doesn’t owe us anything. Life is ours as a virtue of our birth; what we do with it is our choice. It is my hope our students see themselves as active participants in it. What students do makes a difference. Maureen Tiller, principal at CHS, is known for a very famous mantra, “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours!” I would really love for more people to choose to live by this simple. What you choose to do is important. So is what you choose not to do. Poets have long spent words trying to impart this wisdom…just think of “The Road Less Taken” by Robert Frost as an example. Choice is far more than impulse control and deferred gratification…it is a way of life. What you choose to do “with the unforgiving minute” (Thanks, Mr. Kipling!) makes a very big difference. Realize this! Rarely does anyone do anything of consequence by accident. It takes effort, work, and a lot of “elbow grease” along the way. Don’t look to skimp through or limp through life. As Thoreau noted in Walden, “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Honesty is the “H.” This is a non-negotiable in life. Let’s face it…media and all facets of commercial advertisement are notorious deceivers and “life-derailers.” Polonius gives Hamlet some much-discussed but rarely followed advice, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Being honest is not only how you deal with others but, more importantly, how you deal with yourself. We are prone to mistakes…and they can be good life teachers…but we have to accept them and learn from them. Rarely is failure final…but far too many people are too prone “to throw in the towel” at setbacks rather than learn from them. Honesty is a very good barometer if you will use it. Integrity will set your feet on a firm foundation. Shakespeare noted, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” The final letter, “S” is “Self-regulation.” Self-regulation is more than moderation. Steven Stosny, PhD, wrote the following about this characteristic, “Self-regulation is more attainable when focused on values rather than feelings…If you blame your feelings on someone else, they will stimulate retaliation motives that will prevent you from improving whatever is truly causing the negative feelings…Feelings are an important part of how humans create meaning and motivate behavior, but they are never the only important - and rarely the most important - aspect of the meaning-behavior complex. Indeed, focus on feelings without regard to values will more likely lead to addictions and compulsions than beneficial behavior…Consistent self-regulation requires focus on your deepest values rather than feelings. It's also the best way to feel better. Violation of values invariably produces bad feelings, while fidelity to them eventually makes you feel more authentic and empowered.” The above states something we often forget—a strong foundation of morality, ethics, values, and spirituality. I wish our graduates a life of purpose and direction, grounded in time-honored values and a strong moral compass. The world awaits your talents, your skills, and your contributions. “Make it a great life or not, the choice is yours!” (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)