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June 6, 1999

On the first day of college, the Dean addresses the students, pointing out some of the rules.

"The female dormitory will be out-of-bounds for all male students, so too the male dormitory to the female students.

Anybody caught breaking this rule will be fined $20 the first time. Anybody caught breaking this rule the second time will be fined $60. Being caught a third time will incur a hefty fine of $180.

"Are there any questions?"

At this, a male student in the crowd inquires, "How much for a season pass?"

Class of 99... I'll miss you. I'll miss the fun of Honors English, I'll miss pulling on that pointless loop on the back of Dave Cook's shirts, I'll miss listening to Brandon & Levi fight, I'll miss the pointless movie quotes that Andy Mikkelson, Jake Doney, and Jake Meyer receited in Accounting, I'll miss in-depth Art 3/4 discussions, women's choir stories, singing crazy songs on the way to track meets, and adopting Mr. Eslickís humorous idioms. I'll miss you...

Today I want to tell you that we take life for granted. Not just in some symbolic way, but that we take life SO for granted, that we aren't actually living, but are simply existing. What is wrong with us? We are a people who are always on the go, never satisfied, afraid to love each other and to love ourselves, because we think love is weak, and we're so bent on being the biggest, the best, and the brightest, that we don't have time for silly weaknesses such as caring, loving, and sharing. Where are we running to? Are the things that run you ragged really that worthwhile? And this one baffles me too: Since when did good become bad and bad become good? How is it that it's rare, discouraged, and unpopular to rejoice openly in what's right, but common place, encouraged, and popular to delight in evil and immorality. Where is the respect? For ourselves... for each other.. for our God. We're like ants on a hill... programmed to our daily, toilsome tasks, never pausing to wonder, "Why do I do this anyway?". There so much existing in our country, and not enough living, and it's making us all sick. It's making our country sick, our state sick, our towns, our schools, our homes, and our hearts sick with emptiness and a void of love. It's funny and ironic, that those things we blame our problems on, video games, television, and popular musicians, are not the root of the problem, but simply a shocking reflection of the way we are. How long can we go on being so null of life, and what does it take to open the eyes of a town to life.

Montague. Montague is a great place. The people here are supportive, polite, and talented. I feel safe and secure here, I feel I belong, I feel unthreatened... and I'm sure in Littleton Colorado last year there were kids who would say the same thing of their town. Graduates of 99, we are truly lucky to graduate from such a wonderful town. Though it may seem boring at times, though it's true everyone knows what you did 10 minutes before you did it, Montague is a caring, wonderful town to have grown up in. But if we believe that this town is in a golden bubble, safe from all those evils from the news that are getting closer to home, than we're playing a game called "fool". It seems to me, that most graduation speeches prance and trickle with cutesy middle school memories, heart tickling little quotes, and occasional tears. And indeed, today should be a celebration of the close of an era of hard work, life lessons, and memories... but let's not forget, this may be an end, but it is also a beginning. As the last graduation class of the 20th century, and as a group of intelligent, capable, talented, and caring young men and women, I believe that this new beginning needs to be something big, something new, something unique and better than all those classes that have come before us. Something to remedy the staleness of life in our world, to shine some loving light on our little corner of the earth, so that all the world will see us and our love, and want to mimic our steps. Something that inspires less Littletons, and more Montagues. Let's set a standard that classes to come can follow. Let's even be an example to our parents, our teachers, our neighbors, our siblings, family, and friends. Heck, let's even invite them to join us in this new beginning. Let's all start over... today.. today, let's all learn, to love each other. Let's learn to stop existing and start living.

So there's our goal for the day: Learn to live, and learn to love each other. Before we jump to the how, maybe I first need to convince some of you with the why. Why live any different than I do already? Why spend less hours in the office, why spend more time with my family, why watch less TV, why give more hugs and look people in the eye, why swear less and sing more, why trust in divine providence for my needs instead of wearing myself thin worrying how I'll pay for college and the phone bill, my car payment, and the new shirt I HAVE to have? Why live instead of existing? It's true that we don't know what we've got until we lose it, but it's also true that we don't know what we've been missing until it arrives. So Dream what you want to dream; go where you can go; be what your heart and conscious want you to be, because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do. The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.

And wouldn't it be nice if just for fun we bought erasers in the shape of little animals, if we read bed time stories before falling asleep, if we gave stickers to our bestest friends, if we took a weekend and asked everyone in America to turn off the TV, go outside with a coloring book, some cookies, crayons, or a football and just enjoy the beautiful, life-filled surroundings God gave us?!? Wouldn't it be nice if everything seemed as boundless, everyone as vibrant, every day as new, as when we were little kids, splashing through mud puddles and eating playdough? Or if we remembered how great we wanted to be, when we grew up -- and then asked ourselves if we were getting there yet?

And why love? Why love myself, why love other people? Why not? There's no one here who can successfully or intelligently argue that love is bad, that love doesn't feel good, that love can't cure hearts, and souls, and lives, or that you don't crave it daily. There's a song that says: "It's no easy situation, People livin' in their separate worlds, but one thing that we've got in common is... We all wanna be loved, We all want just a little respect, We all wanna be loved, Tell me what's wrong with that?"

So graduates, faculty, family, and the town of Montague, there's the why, now here's the how. How do we learn to live, and learn to love each other? First - Trust and be courageous. To love at all is to be vulnerable. With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate and the wisdom to be humble. Have the courage to live. Anyone can die. Cowards are apathetic, it takes guts to care. So trust in who you are, because courage is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow, not the towering oak that sees storms come and go. Trust and be courageous. Second - lift each other up. Think of those times when you felt as if your lonely world was going to collapse, when you felt depressed or just down and out, and some kind person took the time to share a smile, or a hug, or a word of encouragement with you. There've been many times when my friends have made me little signs, written me little notes, or given hugs, and their little tokens of love made all the difference in my attitude that day. We are fortunate people who live in abundance, and there's no reason we can't share our money, our resources, our overflowing closets, and our crammed pantries with those right here in Montague who are less fortunate. But we don't need money or materials to lift each other up.

We can show our support by attending local concerts, games, and plays, just by smiling at each other, by visiting with lonely friends and relatives, or leaving notes of encouragement in the car, on the fridge, on a doorstep, or a desk. All these ways are important, and even the little things can make a difference.

Third- Love yourself. You are an important and unique creation of God, conceived to do good works to glorify Him and to show each other love, and that's the truth! You have the responsibility and joy to share your uniqueness with this town and world, because no one else can ever do what you do how you do it.

Together we make one body, we all have different functions, and I can't function, we can't function, without you. You are important, you're gifted, you're worthwhile, you're needed.

Fourth- Listen. How many times have you been upset about something, and tried to drop hints of your sadness, only to find out no one was really paying attention. How many times have you said, "No, I don't want to talk about it" but secretly deep down, you hoped someone would peruse you. How many times have you had a great victory or joy you were just aching to share, only to discover that there were no ears to share it with, or if there were, they simply said "Gee, that's great." and moved on with their busy work. Maybe instead of pretending to be interested in each other, we should learn to really listen. We don't have to agree with what the other person is saying, but lets at least have the courage to truly hear them, and to respect their opinion. Let's at least have the courage to take an hour to let someone vent or retell a joyous story, even though the lawn really needs to be mowed or there's a TV show on you want to watch. How can questions be answered if they're never heard? How can a problem be solved, if it's never had a chance to be presented? How can you give someone love, if you never listen close enough to hear that they need it? Listen.

Fifth- Follow your heart and conscious. I still have a lot to learn about these two things. But I know you should listen to your heart - partly because it's in your heart that dreams are formed and inspired, and the only way to attain those dreams is by being true to how you feel. I also think following your heart means expressing your emotions: When you love someone, tell them. When a song, a performance, a poem, or a piece of art touches your soul, let someone know. When the kindness of another person, their unique character, their talents, or the time they spend with you makes your heart do little summer-saults of appreciation, let them know. You don't have to use big fancy words or accompany your emotions with flowers and candy - a word spoken with sincerity is far more meaningful then a word with multiple syllables. Use your heart and conscious together... sometimes the desires of our hearts deceive us, but hopefully the compass of your conscious will drive your desires in the right direction. Follow your heart and conscious.

Sixth - Use your talents for each other's welfare. Remember we said earlier that you are an important and unique creation of God, conceived to do good works to glorify Him? Well, the Father gave us all unique talents, assets, and avenues to accomplish this task. Your talent may be art & painting: Use your talent to inspire other people. Your talent may be sports: Share your talents and your love with young kids by volunteering to be a coach. Your talent may be music: Share uplifting songs and use your talent to spread the word of love. Your talent may be being a good friend: Display your talent, by being there for others, and striving to make new friendships. Your talent may be humor: Use your talent to lighten other people's heavy hearts. Whatever your talent is, and Class of 99, you are FILLED with talent, I challenge you to take some time this next week, to brainstorm ways you can use that talent, for others. Use your talents for each other's welfare.

Seventh- Remember we are all the same. There's part of another song I know that goes like this: "I could tell you a story of shame, I could talk for hours on how we became, A flower that bloomed in one day, The next day our glory faded away, Divided by hostilities, Hung up on issues, we disagree, A body that's been torn apart, We're still a body with a healthy heart... What do you think when you see, Continuous losers the people like me, I hope you never believe, Just for a moment you're better than me, The truth is that we are the same, All different people but only one name, I hope that you will agree, That all of you are people like me, I can't stand by myself any more, I forgot what we're fighting for, Please come take my hand, We will make our stand"

In the past few weeks, we've been informed that graduation really isnít' for us, but for the community and for family. I hope that that statement is made exponentially true today. I hope that today, though we'll be the only ones receiving diplomas, we won't be the only ones graduating. My prayer is that as we begin a new life, you, our parents, teachers, heroes, family, and friends, will do so too.

Let's have the courage to set a standard. Let's draw some attention to our little corner of the earth, so that when people hear the name "Montague" they smile, wag their heads and say, "My how those people love each other." Lets send our neighbors flowers, give our employees hugs, remind our children how special they are, and offer our hands to those who are down. Class of 2000, I've got my eye on you, and so does the rest of the town, the rest of the world, and God. I hope that you'll have the courage to love yourselves, love each other, lift each other up, to use your talents for good, and to remember this day, because it only takes one spark to start a fire, and we need your fuel to keep the flame of love blazing in this community. Class of 99, you are a special, special, talented group of people, and you are very dear friends to me. My prayer is that by some miracle today, these words have knocked on your heart, and you've acquired a thirst for the challenge of true living, a desire to be alive and vibrant instead of simply existing, that everywhere you go, you'll inspire people to love each other, simply by being yourself, following your conscious, and following your heart. Don't ever let go of our memories, because we'll never walk tomorrow, the way we walk today. Never let go of our friendships, our laughs, our love, our lessons and heartaches together, because it's all fuel for that fire that will bring us more memories, more friendships, more love, and more reasons to smile. Have the courage to be emotional, to be alive, to be a spark, because no one can love the way you can Sara Rayner, no one can love the way you can Chris K, no one can love the way you can Jill S, or Mike Schiller, or April Witte, or Nate Dyer, or any of you, and YOU have a joy and responsibility to share your uniqueness with the world.

Earlier, I gave each of the graduates two bracelets that are to be a symbol and a reminder of the goal we've set today. Graduates: If you have the courage to lift each other up, to love yourselves, to listen to each other and your hearts, and to use your talents for good, I want you to stand up, and put on a bracelet.

The other bracelet is for you to give to someone else, to show them you love them. I'd like to thank the Ben Franklin Crafts store downtown for donating some of the materials for these bracelets. My plan is to make more bracelets to give away until I run out of supplies, and my hope is that from today on these bracelets will become a common accessory in Montague, and that when ever any of you sees them, you'll think twice about how to fill this community with love.

God Bless You All.

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