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Commentary: Graduation message for the first half of the class

(Note: The article below was first published for the graduating class of 2004. One mother wrote and told me she had it blown up to poster size and put it on the wall where her graduate and his friends couldn't miss it. Others have suggested I repeat the article. Here it is.)

Thousands of graduation speeches will be given this week to the excited and proud graduates in their caps and gowns. None of them will say this in so many words, but almost every one of those high sounding orations will be directed at the top 50 percent, top 25 percent and maybe even the top 10 percent of the class. That's okay, but it's about time somebody got realistic and remembered the other half of the class - the half I'll call the first half.

These remarks are directed to that forgotten first half. Here goes: The first thing to remember is that you don't have to get a scholarship to be a success as a student or just about anything else you put your mind to. If you are willing to work hard enough you'll end up well ahead of dozens of honor students who aren't. Besides, as my mother says at least once a week, "Sometimes the smartest people are not the smartest." What that amounts to is that common sense will beat brains just about every time unless you're in a spelling bee or a math contest.

And remember this: Audacity is a talent. Fortune favors the audacious so if you really want something you'll have to be bold about pursuing it. Just about the best thing you can say in a job interview is how much you want the job - if you really do. For that matter, boldness works in the romance department too. "Faint heart never won fair maiden" is a quaint old expression but it's close to the mark.

On the subject of talent, if nobody has told you this before, I'll tell you. You have more talent than you can imagine. If you keep trying to do new things, you'll keep discovering new things that you can do - and do well. Sometimes in emergencies or on short notice you will amaze yourself at what you have the talent to accomplish.

Develop your temperament by practicing patience. How do you practice patience? By thinking before you speak, looking before you leap, practicing sound habits and waiting for the results to come around to you - as they certainly will. There is a Dutch proverb that says "A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains." The longest serving President of the United States and certainly one of the greatest, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was said to have a second rate mind, but a first rate temperament. Think about that.

None of us knows what's around the corner - surprises, delights, mistakes, traps, opportunities, disappointments. Unfair things will happen. Will they throw you? Don't let them. Bitterness is the worst response to disappointment - it will sap your energy and enthusiasm and will make you generally disagreeable to everyone around you.

Be leery of shortcuts and quick fixes like get rich quick schemes and gambling. These schemes require suckers. Don't be one of them. Only chumps believe in good luck. Again - patience, not greed. Quick mood benders are even worse. They can end up bending your brain - permanently.

If it's happiness you seek, don't compare your life to someone else's. You can't beat a good job, a loving family, a comfortable home, participation in your church and community, a dog, a pickup and enough to eat. Accomplish this and the world will be a better place because of you. Every member of the class, first half, second half, honor student and just plain graduate, if he or she has the will and the work ethic, can achieve that happiness. Best wishes graduates.