01 Jul A HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION SPEECH : “FROM ‘FITTING IN’ TO ‘STANDING OUT’ … 3 WAYS TO MAKE IT HAPPEN”
I was honored to deliver the Keynote Address last week at the Deer Park (Long Island) Class of 2019’s High School Commencement Ceremony, my alma mater. It was great to be home and offer advice to this generation 40 years after my Class of 1979 received our diplomas.
To put ’79’s High School years in perspective, I informed the soon-to-be graduates that during our time in school:
- “The Yankees were 2x reigning World Series Champs,
- There was only one “Star Wars” film,
- There were no “Avengers” movies (their comics sold for 25 cents),
- We saw “Queen” perform “Bohemian Rhapsody” live!
I was delighted to have those memories and so many others wash over me back in this town and school where I learned so much in class on the athletic fields. While there might be 40 years between our classes, I emphasized that when I wore the cloth of our country either afloat in the Pacific or in the deserts of the Middle East, it was alongside teenagers right out of High Schools like Deer Park, and that’s why I had relevant lessons to share as they began their young adult journey. The following are speech excerpts:
“Up to this point of your lives as High Schoolers most of you measured success by being able to “Fit In.” That’s important and it’s not always easy to do as a teenager. But from here on out, you’ll find that the measure success is being able to “Sttand Out.” Big difference: “Fit In” vs. “Stand Out,” and the best way to stand out in any field you choose is to demonstrate three traits that are just as important today as they were in 1979 … “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity.” A brief comment on each:
- TEAMWORK: I was fortunate to be part of and lead some high-performing organizations that helped defeat the Soviets in the Cold War and turn the tide of battle in the War on Terror. What allowed us to work so well together was not unique to the military … in fact, I trace it back here to Deer Park. The key to great TEAMWORK is building trust by living up to your word with one and another. I learned to do that in Deer Park on varsity sports, being in the chorus and performing in the school play. All were opportunities to stand out individually – but in the context of keeping your commitment to others seeking to achieve a common goal. Those lessons paid dividends on aircraft carriers in the North Atlantic and with Special Forces in Afghanistan. Carry those TEAMWORK lessons with you to your future workplaces Class of ’19 and I guarantee you’ll make them better.
- TONE: Stay positive. Show others you care. My earliest role models who did that and maintained positive outlook during tough times were guys like my NYPD Dad and the many other Cops and Firemen that lived in Deer Park, like the Downeys and Vigianos (heroic Firemen who perished on 9/11 at the World Trade Center), and the coaches and extra curricula activity directors at this school. What impressed me the most about their tone – and this is the lesson for all of us – was that they never tried to create an atmosphere based on how much they knew, but rather on how much they cared. I’ll never forget my first simulated fleet war game as a Commander in San Diego. The team I was leading was outsmarted, embarrassed and knew I let my shipmates down, After the news was delivered in a devastating debrief and most of my colleagues left the room, my boss reassuringly said, “Paul, we got beat. Good thing this was just training. I know you’ll do what’s necessary to make us better next time.” Even though I failed, my boss didn’t make me feel like a failure. Set that kind of TONE when dealing with others, Class of 2019.
- TENACITY: Nothing will help you overcome obstacles more than trying again, sometimes trying harder, sometimes trying smarter. One of our most renown Admirals was Hyman Rickover, Father of the Nuclear Navy. He is often cited, “Success teaches nothing … only failure teaches.” Boy is that right. I’ve found in several decades of dealing with young men and women that the difference between achieving your goal and falling short is that one extra attempt. The finest and most inspirational Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and Marines that i served with weren’t the brightest, the most physical or came from the best backgrounds. The best were the most the most TENACIOUS. They showed grit, valor, resolve and perseverance to make themselves and their teams better. Be TENACIOUS Class of 2019, it’ll make you stand out.
This is your time Class of 2019: Your time to “Stand Out” by putting together the Three T’s! Join the long line of your Falcon predecessors who are all heirs and heiresses – not to huge fortunes like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts or Bloombergs – but heirs to our American society of freedom and abundance that others have fought and sacrificed for … that most of you are too young to have contributed to … yet.
Now the two words you’ve been waiting to hear, “In Conclusion!“ Class of 2019, I wish you all Godspeed, and success as you graduate from “Fitting In” to “Standing Out” by practicing “Teamwork, Tone, Tenacity” wherever you go. And as we say in the Navy, “I Wish You Fair Winds and Following Seas.”