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Ray Sidney
Businessman
Graduation Speech, Edwin O. Smith High School 2007

"Make choices that will make you happy for a long time, rather than just focusing on the next two seconds."


Don’t be afraid to think big or to shoot for the stars. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you never take.” We all have our limits, and nobody is capable of doing absolutely everything-- remember when Michael Jordan wanted to be a baseball player? But if you aren’t even willing to try to make your dreams come true, you’ll end up settling for less of a life than you could’ve had. While you should always strive for success, you should realize that for many things in your life, failure actually is an option. But when you fail, don’t let it be because you didn’t care or didn’t try.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. Wayne Gretzky said, “The highest compliment that you can pay me is to say that I work hard every day, that I never dog it.” At the same time, don’t be afraid to spend some of your time not working. In some of my years in industry, I spent pretty much all my time working. At the other end of the spectrum, I spent most of my second year of grad school playing video games! Somewhere in between those two extremes lies a reasonable balance, and that balance is different for different people. Know that with hard work you can achieve great goals, but also know that there’s more to life than just your career. If all you ever do is work, you will regret it. You will look back on your life, and no matter how much you have accomplished, you will wish that you had lived differently. Play time and family time and sleep time are all necessary for you to recharge yourself, to keep yourself from burning out, to get perspective on what you’re doing and what your life means, and to get good ideas for the future.

Respect your future. Wayne Gretzky said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” What I mean by “respect your future” is: make choices that will make you happy for a long time, rather than just focusing on the next two seconds. Among other things, that means that in everything you do, you need to be sufficiently upstanding that your conduct doesn’t keep you up worrying late at night.

Respect yourself and respect other people. This means that you should realize that everyone is unique, and everyone has his or her own ideas and abilities, and that this is a good thing, rather than a bad thing. Celebrate diversity! The fact that people are different and possess different talents means that when you work as a team, together you can achieve more than any one of you could alone. I used to be a real elitist-- I worked hard, I attended all the best schools, and I thought that with my smarts and my talents and my background, I was pretty hot stuff. When I entered the working world, I was amazed to discover that there are incredibly talented and capable people out there from all walks of life! Don’t think less of someone just because their background differs from yours. (Of course, if people manage to prove to you by their actions that you really should think less of them, then go ahead and do so.)

Even if you’re super-smart and super-capable, don’t discount the benefits of your con-nections in life. If you can use your connections to get things done, don’t think of that as cheating; instead, view your connections as part of your overall skill set. In fact, when you look at corporate executives and politicians, sometimes it seems like connections are their entire skill set! And although good luck isn’t exactly part of your skill set as such, you shouldn’t be ashamed when good luck helps you accomplish things, either. I’ll use that Gretzky quote one more time here, since it’s everybody’s favorie, and since it’s at least slightly related: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

Finally, always remember that you’re only one small part of the world. You’re an important part of the world, certainly, but so is everyone else. Do things that will help everybody, not just yourself-- think of how great life would be if everyone acted that way! With the complexity and hassles of modern life, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in your own little world. Who has time to try to make the world a better place? Well, even though things seem hectic now, they’re probably going to seem even more hectic later on when you’re trying to deal with your spouse’s strep throat and trying to get your well-deserved promotion at work and wondering who’s going to pick up the kids from day care after school and when do you get to go on that vacation, anyway? Living in today’s society is a stressful business for everyone, and everyone needs to figure out how to find the personal resources to try to make the world a better place.


Read the full high school graduation speech »

Edwin O. Smith High School
Storrs, CT
May 2007

Sent in by: Dan S.
Posted on: 01.21.2008