Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Day at the Courthouse

Just another "Texan Tall Tale"....

“They look so young,” the gray-haired woman said wistfully to her spouse as she looked toward the counter on the opposite side of the small courthouse lobby.  He smiled and nodded in agreement.

She had spied the youthful couple when they entered the building, holding hands and smiling as they strode confidently across the linoleum floor, across to the window marked, “County Clerk—Marriage Licenses.”  Seeing them made her think of a day long ago when she and her beau had taken that same walk.

The woman began to create a story in her mind about the youngsters as she saw them being greeted by the clerk.  She imagined the young man to be named Mark, like her grandson.  In fact, he looked a bit like him.

The girl?  She looked like a “Kelli” or “Brandi,” or some other name that could end with either “i” or “y.”  They’d probably met at college, through mutual friends, no doubt.  They looked comfortable with one another, she thought, in a way that said they were more than just infatuated.  They may have even been through some difficulty or sadness in their short time together, something that had made them stronger as a couple.

Yes, it was right that they should be married, she thought.  They’re in love.

The clerk’s terse tone, tinged with condescension, snapped her from her daydream.  “I asked, are you both Christian?” the woman inquired in voice loud enough to be heard across the lobby, apparently repeating something heard but not quite believed the first time by “Mark and Kelli.”

“No,” said Mark, both baffled by the question and annoyed that it was asked.  “Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m Jewish.”

“Well, then, you’ll have to wait until Maria comes back from her lunch break so she can issue your license,” the clerk replied, looking down at the stack of papers she had collected to shuffle so she could avoid meeting the stunned couple’s widening eyes.  “I have a sincerely-held religious belief that prevents me from doing it myself.”

“But it’s your job!” Kelli emphatically responded, her voice rising and tears of indignation welling in her eyes.  “And it’s the law!  How can you ignore the law?!?”

Across the lobby, the gray-haired woman tugged her husband’s sleeve.  “Are you hearing this?” she whispered. She cocked her head toward the County Clerk’s window.  It seemed the entire lobby was looking that way, too.

“Miss, you’ll have to lower your voice.  If you make a scene, you’ll be asked to leave,” the clerk said, her own voice growing louder.

Mark grasped the girl’s hand tightly, as if to get her attention.  He focused his gaze squarely on the clerk.  With a calm, but firm tone, he asked:  “What do you mean ‘sincerely-held religious belief?’  How does that ‘prevent’ you from following the law?’

“I just don’t believe you two should be getting married,” she replied.  “And the Bible supports that.  See, right here,” she began, as she whipped around to snatch the New International Version sitting like a paperweight atop a stack of forms on her county-issued standard office desk.  With a quick combination of page-flips and thumb-licks, she found the damning scripture she needed.

“Yep, right here.  Second Corinthians, Chapter Six, Verse Fourteen: ‘Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?’”  With a thud, she closed her Bible and any further conversation about the matter.

“Maria will be back in a few minutes," she said, dismissively.  "Wait over there and she can help you when she gets back—if she wants to.”

Just then, as if on cue, Maria appeared behind the counter, having returned early from lunch.  As she placed her purse in the large file drawer of her desk, she sensed the tension at the window.

“Is there something I can do to help?” she asked cheerfully, approaching the window.  She noticed her co-worker’s rigid stance, the flush that had appeared on the young woman's skin, rising from her neck to her face.  Were those tears in her eyes?

“Maybe you can help them,” her co-worker said, turning away and hastily retreating to a file room.

“We just want to get a marriage license,” Mark said.  “This shouldn’t be so hard.”

“Well, no, of course not!”  Maria looked over the application form.  “Everything seems to be in order so far as I can see.”

From across the lobby, the gray-haired woman continued to watch the young couple.  Finally, she thought, common sense will prevail.

“Thank you,” Kelli and Mark firmly said in unison, their impatience thinly disguised.

“Just one more question, though—have either of you been married before?” Maria inquired, her happy voice echoing off the shiny linoleum floors for all to hear.

Kelli’s anger burst through.  “Yes, I have!  So what?  What business is that of yours?”

“Well,” Maria began, her voice still courteous and sweet—perhaps too sweet.  “That’s going to be a problem.  You see, I have a sincere religious belief that marriage is eternal.  It says so in the Scripture, right there in Matthew, that if you two get married, you would be committing adultery.  I can’t be a party to that, I’m sorry.”

Kelli burst into tears.  Mark exploded into a fit of rage.  “What the hell are you talking about?!?  Your job is to uphold the Constitution!  There is nothing illegal about us being married!” he shouted for all to hear.

“Sir, calm down or we will have to call a deputy down and arrest you!”  Maria’s voice had lost its sweetness by now. 

“I’m telling you that I do not have to provide you with a marriage license if it violates my sincerely-held religious beliefs, no matter what the Constitution says.  You’ll need to wait until one of my co-workers can help you.  Now, sit over there,” she commanded, waving them off to the seating area at the corner of the counter.

The woman across the lobby lurched forward, instinctive in her desire to intervene on behalf of the young couple.  He looked so much like her grandson.  The gentle squeeze of her husband’s hand, the slightest tug on her arm told her, No…this is not our business.

Stunned, Mark and Kelli turned away from the window.  Only then did they realize that every eye in the lobby was trained on them.  A scene had been made.

As they shuffled to the chairs in the waiting area, the gray-haired woman studied their faces.  What was that look?  Was it anger? Frustration? Embarrassment?

No, she soon realized.  That look was the look of shame.

###

The oath of office for County Clerks elected in Texas reads, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the duties of (the office) and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”

Yesterday, April 11, 2017, nearly two years after the United States Supreme Court issued the Obergefell decision, the Texas Senate preliminarily approved SB 522 on a 21-10 vote, mostly along party lines (Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, voted in favor of the bill).  This bill would allow clerks to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples and assign those duties elsewhere if doing so would contradict a “sincerely held religious belief.”

I think this bill has a snowball’s chance in Hell once it gets to the House.  Nevertheless….

The San Antonio Express-News quotes Senator Brian Bridwell, the Granbury Republican who authored the measure as saying, “Right now, there is not an alternate mechanism for a clerk who is not willing to issue a license because of their sincerely held beliefs.”


To that I say, hogwash.  There is an alternate mechanism:  Get another job if you refuse to do the one you have sworn to do.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We Fear What We Don't Understand

Bathrooms.  Who would have thought we would be talking so much about such private, yet shared experiences?

Today, March 7, Senate Bill 6 will be heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee at the State Capitol.  Authored by Sen. Lois Kohlkorst (R-Brenham), the bill aims to restrict access for transgender persons to restrooms and other facilities.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has made bathroom access one of his top priorities this session, and his message sounds an alarm: “Menacing men dressed as women are preparing to assault our children and womenfolk!” 

Mrs. Kohlkorst, ironically channeling former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, wrote an opinion piece that appeared in several Texas newspapers this weekend, in which she wrote, “Women’s rights are human rights.”  She also wrote that opponents of SB 6 seemingly have only one goal in mind—to let boys and men into women’s restrooms to prey on girls and women.  “Young men who are ‘curious,’” she wrote, “or hold more nefarious goals will be free to experiment, while girls and parents are left legally powerless.”

Mr. Patrick and Mrs. Kohlkorst know exactly what they are doing and to whom they are delivering their message.  They know that most people do not understand what it means to be transgender, assume they do not know a transgender person, and do not understand the experience of transgender people in the real world.

And they are keenly aware that what people do not understand, they are likely to fear.  I cannot speak from any personal experience about what it is like to be a transgender person, beyond what I have learned through study and interaction.  Nevertheless, here is some information I have learned that might be helpful to those who do not have knowledge or understanding of this phenomenon.

Transgender persons are people who do not—cannot—identify with the gender assigned them at their birth.  Transgender people report that this issue of identity is not the result of choice, nor is one’s gender identity determined on a whim.  Transgender persons do not wake up one morning and “decide” to change their gender from the prior day, as Mrs. Kohlkorst asserted in her article.

Being transgender is not the same as being gay or any other description of sexual orientation, which refers to physical and emotional attraction.  Being transgender is also not as simple as dressing in clothing customarily associated with the opposite sex.  Finally, a transgender person’s gender identity is not dependent on having surgery.

Despite what one sees on television, being transgender is neither inherently glamorous nor extravagant.  Perhaps the most well-known transgender person in American culture today is Caitlyn Jenner, who lives a very privileged and public life, even starring in a reality television show.  In fact, the vast majority of transgender people in America are disproportionately poor and significantly more at-risk of suicide and violent crime than the population as a whole. 

Finally, transgender persons are not new to American society, though the general public is likely more cognizant of their presence today.  It is possible, perhaps even likely, that many have met or known a transgender person, but were not aware of their gender story.  Yes, it is possible that you have been in a public restroom with a transgender person and didn’t even know it.

The issue of safety is a red herring.  There is not a shred of evidence to support the notion that transgender persons are more prone to be violent, criminal sexual predators. The idea that men are waiting for SB 6 to pass so they can dress up as women, sneak into bathrooms and sexually assault women and girls is not only factually baseless--it is already illegal to do that! To assert, as Mrs. Kohlkorst did, that women (or men, for that matter) are not protected legally from sexual assault is mendacity and fear-mongering.

Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem.  If it is already illegal to sexually assault a person in a restroom or anywhere else, then what is the real impetus for this legislation?

A lot has been said about the potential economic impact of laws such as this.  That alone, however, should not be the reason for opposing it.

Discriminating against humans out of ignorance and fear, denying them their basic dignity—that is reason enough.

I do not personally understand what it means to be transgender.  I have not walked in those shoes or struggled in that way; however, I require neither the struggle nor the experience to know that treating people as “less than” is wrong.




Saturday, January 21, 2017

An Open Letter to My President

January 21, 2017
 
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As a proud citizen of the United States, I want to extend my congratulations to you on the occasion of your inauguration.  The events of this weekend, starting with the words of your speech, all the way through the many demonstrations across the country in response to your ascent to the highest, most respected office in our great country, have moved me to write to you, my president.

My president.  Many, like me, have struggled with that notion.  Many Americans have decided that they cannot refer to you as such.  They, like me, did not support you, nor did they vote for you.  They, like me, have been alternately baffled, amused, and frightened by the things you have said and done in the past months.  Though many of my friends and loved ones who did support you suggest that we take you seriously rather than literally, others, like me, are deeply concerned that there are hateful elements in our country who hear the words you speak and see the actions you take as a license to hate.

Nevertheless, you are my president.  I didn’t agree when people said “not my president” about President Bush (I did not vote for him) or President Obama (I did vote for him).  They, like you, were my presidents, regardless of whether or not I voted for them, as are you.  It seems that if I do not claim you as my president, then I am not in a solid position to remind you that you represent me and all Americans, not just your base.  You now have the awesome job, burden, and responsibility of representing not only those who voted for you, but all of us.

Because I hold such great respect for the Office of the Presidency, and because you are, indeed, accountable to this and every citizen, I will applaud you when I feel you have done the right thing, and I will question you when you have not.  I will speak the truth, even when my voice shakes.  In the liturgy of my church, I will sincerely pray for you to be wise and fair when your name is uplifted, and will pray that those who follow you will be led by love, compassion, inclusion, and justice.

Because you are my president, this sincere and respectful gay, environmentally-concerned citizen wants to know why the LGBT and Climate Change pages on the White House website were suddenly absent immediately following your inauguration. 

Because you are my president, I want to know the plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act since members of my family are depending on the health insurance therein provided for them. 

As a citizen of the United States and the State of Texas, I want to know from you, my president, if the construction of the wall you propose along the southern border will involve the taking of land from United States citizens who have seen the government usurp hundreds of acres of Rio Grande Valley farmland upon which their livelihoods depend in previous, similar efforts.

Yes, Mr. Trump, you are my president, and Mr. Pence is my vice president.  In making that claim, I proudly claim also my constitutional right to ask these questions of you and your administration, and to expect a response.

With sincerity, passion, and patriotism,

D. Scott Elliff, Ed.D.

Corpus Christi, Texas

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cosmic Christ

I love the Nativity story as much as anyone.  In my family, we had a Christmas Eve tradition of gathering in the living room around the tree and hearing the story retold by whomever was the youngest family member able to read from the tattered children’s Bible we had. 

In our small-town Methodist church basement, there was the annual Christmas pageant staged by the children’s Sunday School classes, complete with shepherds’ crooks and costumes fashioned from bed sheets.  Told and retold in story and song, the narrative of the birth of Jesus is so much a part of the Christian upbringing, so enmeshed and embellished with different cultural and family traditions, that we are likely encounter it at some point each year with nostalgia, misty eyes, and a lump in the throat.

It’s certainly a compelling story, with elements of young love, a grueling journey, political intrigue, and special effects.  The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke each share a version of the “arrival of Jesus.”  Matthew establishes the context with a recitation of Jesus’ lineage, Joseph’s dilemma in accepting the remarkable circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of the child, and finally a sadly familiar and contemporary plot twist taking the young family on a refugee odyssey to Egypt as they escape political power run amok (Mt. 1:1-2:23).

Mark, on the other hand, leaps forward in the chronology, introducing us to a young adult Jesus being heralded by John the Baptist (Mk 1:1-12) and baptized in the Jordan river.  Finally, Luke provides the most memorable version with Mary and her betrothed, Joseph, obediently following the command of the state to leave home at the most inconvenient and uncomfortable of times, giving birth among the animals in a stable, being visited by shepherds and wise men, all illuminated by a brilliant star and heralded by a chorus of angels (Lk. 2:1-20).

Different as these three accounts are, what they share is the elements of narrative.  We see the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and even a bit of “why.”  If you took the three versions apart and reordered them from how they are presented in our 21st century Bible, you’d see a complete “Point A to Point Z” story.  And this story is the one that touches all the “sentimental buttons” for many of us, the stuff of Christmas carols and Midnight Masses, the inspiration for many a Christmas card.

But what if we didn’t have this version of the coming of Christ into our world?  What if we our only introduction to the arrival of Jesus was something more mysterious and mystical?  What if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were removed from the canon, leaving us only with the Gospel of John?  Imagine for a moment that our tradition taught us nothing of stables and stars, wise men and shepherds.  Would we experience Advent (and maybe even the whole of Christianity) differently?

While the other Gospel sources focus on the narrative facts, John plunges us deep into the mystery of the Christ from the first word.  John uses language that is symbolic, figurative, not so easy to understand.  It is John who reminds us that the arrival of the Christ in the form of Jesus, the person, is not just a sweet story to warm our hearts and inspire Hallmark cards. 

This arrival is cosmic!  It is filled with mystery, timelessness, metaphor, and juxtapositions of light and dark.  Kathy quoted John last Sunday as she concluded her entry.  Let me share more:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5).

Wow! That’s some heady stuff!  We read, we wonder, and we read again. Exactly what do these words mean?  Do we have the wisdom to understand?

You can’t take John’s gospel introduction and create a “Little Golden Book” version for easy consumption.  John’s account of the arrival of the Christ seems to not be meant for children—so abstract are his words that one would think that most youngsters are not developmentally capable of grasping all that he conveys.  This should be marked “Warning:  Adult Spiritual Content—Your Mind May Be Blown!”

Are we guilty of settling for a “Little Golden Book” version of Christianity?  Are we reluctant to take the leap to explore the mystic, mysterious, cosmic nature of Jesus? It’s easier to live in the safe and sentimental stories of faith; however, while they are instructive to children, they are not necessarily transformational for grown-ups, or people seeking maturity in faith.  Without transformation, the story risks being minimized to religious folklore, a pleasant fable, a quaint account of a simpler time long, long ago.

I love the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the stable, the tableau of the Holy Family with all the animals, shepherds, wise men and angels.  But I already know that old, old story.  I need an extreme Advent makeover.  I’m looking for the light that shines in the darkness, because this world is feeling mighty dark these days.  My Advent plan is to continue thinking, writing, and praying over John’s version of the coming of the Christ into the world.

I want to walk as a child of the Light
I want to follow Jesus
God set the stars to give light to the world
The light of my life is Jesus
In Him there is no darkness at all
The night and the day are both alike
The Lamb is the light of the City of God
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus


-Kathleen Thomerson

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Choose Your Words Wisely

In response specifically to the tragedy in Orlando, and generally to the state of our national discourse, I wrote the following essay, published today in our local newspaper.


“Words are things,” the inimitable Dr. Maya Angelou once said.  “You must be careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance.  Don’t do that.”

She continued, like a prophet, “Someday, we’ll be able to measure the power of words.  I think they are things.  They get on the walls.  They get in your wallpaper.  They get in your rugs, in your upholstery and your clothes, and finally, into you.”

As an educator, I learned early in my career that a single word, rightly chosen or ineptly used, could make all the difference in my students’ likelihood to grasp a difficult concept.  Later, as a school district leader, I was taught again and again, often in very difficult situations, that the words I chose could be consequential—for better or for worse—for our staff and students.

I learned, as a school-aged child, the lasting power of words when other students mocked me in the hallways, tossing “sissy,” and much worse, in my direction.  Decades later, those words have proven to be a struggle to forgive and, apparently, impossible to forget.

And how many of us look back at those times in our families when, as parents, siblings, or children, our words chosen in anger or thoughtlessness left indelible stains on the delicately-woven fabric of our most treasured relationships?

In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz suggests that words are powerful things, indeed.  “The word is not just a sound or a written symbol.  The word is a force,” he writes.  “Your word is pure magic, and misuse of your word is black magic.”

The ubiquity of social media has created a new environment in which the power of words has become evident.  I conducted a self-intervention and extracted myself from Facebook in March.  Beyond being a means of sharing family pictures and nostalgic memories with long-lost schoolmates, the platform was becoming a cauldron of vitriol, some religious, some political, and much ill-informed.  Others’ words fanned the flames of my emotions, and I admitted to myself that I was becoming more a contributor to the problem than a part of any solution.

Each of us has both a gift and a responsibility in our ability to speak and write words.  We can build up one another with words of respect and encouragement, even when our perspectives differ.

But when we are careless in our descriptions of people who think or live or love differently than ourselves, we cannot be certain of how those words will “get into” other people, as Dr. Angelou said.  They may fan the emotional flames of someone whose actions will have dire and tragic consequences.  Such is the nature of “black magic.”

I concur with the editorial appearing on these pages this past Tuesday—we would be wise to slow our rush to judgment in times like these.  I would add that we would be wise to choose carefully the words we speak—to ourselves and to the world.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times
June 15, 2016



Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Teachers Feel Physicians' Pain

This appeared in today's Corpus Christi Caller-Times...

My morning routine goes something like this: first, start the coffeemaker and feed the cat.  Next, go outside and fetch the newspaper.  Third, pour the coffee and slide back into bed to read the Caller-Times, starting with the obituaries and ending with the opinion columnists.

I save the editorial pages for last because they are so entertaining and provocative.  Ann McFeatters and Tom Whitehurst make me laugh.  Leonard Pitts makes me think.  Charles Krauthammer usually makes me mad, but I took special note of his column this past Saturday.

“Doctors’ reasons for quitting” was the headline.  He wrote of the growing number of physicians who are leaving the profession, fed up with government interference in the practice of medicine. 

Krauthammer detailed the complaint of classmates in his medical school class 40th-year reunion report as “not financial, but vocational—an incessant interference with their work, a deep erosion of their autonomy, a transformation from ‘physician’ to ‘provider’.”

Further, he reported that one alumnus wrote, “My colleagues who have already left practice all say they still love patient care, being a doctor.  They just couldn’t stand everything else…a never-ending attack on the profession from the government, insurance companies, and lawyers, progressively intrusive and usually unproductive rules and regulations.”

In particular, Krauthammer lamented the mandate for electronic health records (EHR) and the extent to which the technological and financial burden of implementing the mandate had negatively impacted the practice of medicine and, possibly, the quality of patient care.

I could not help but to think of the similarities among the physicians’ experience and that of teachers, not just here and throughout Texas, but across the nation.  I re-read the column and found it easy to substitute “teacher” for “physician” and  “STAAR test” for “EHR,” and to compare the financial impact of implementing new federal mandates in health care to the billions (yes, that is with a “b”) of dollars spent on standardized testing over the past two decades.  Pearson, the British company who reaped the financial benefits of standardized testing in Texas, just lost their lucrative contract following many years of feasting on the fatted calf of TAKS and STAAR testing in Texas.  Ouch!

A few weeks ago, a gentleman who admitted to being in his golden years wrote a letter to this newspaper recalling the “good old days” when he had to pass tests to graduate from high school, how standards had been lowered from when he was a student, and so on.  He may have been suffering from a bout of “nostesia,” which combines our warm, nostalgic memories of school when we were children with the selective amnesia about what really happened.  Fact is, only recently in Texas have the stakes been so high for students and teachers alike when it comes to one government-mandated test making or breaking a student’s academic chances…or an educator’s career.

The school year is almost over for most districts.  I know many teachers and administrators who are calling it quits—for good—this week.  “Happy retirement,” I say.  For some, it is time. For many, though, it is far too early, and our students will be the losers in the end.

Dr. D. Scott Elliff,
Retired Corpus Christi ISD Superintendent
May 30, 2015


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Superheroism


Image result for superhero 


May 24, 2015

I was honored this week to keynote the commencement ceremonies for Branch Academy for Career and Technical Education and Collegiate High School here in Corpus Christi.  Having been part of the planning and building of these two remarkable schools since their beginnings, it was a very special occasion for me to be able to share some thoughts with the students as they complete their courses of study.

As often happens, I reflected on the speech after giving it and realized that I was, perhaps, preaching to myself.  The "keys to superheroism" are ideals I strive for in my life even today...sometimes with success, often times without.

Earlier this month, “The Avengers:  Age of Ultron” opened to critical acclaim and amazing box office figures.  The sequel to “Marvel’s The Avengers” brought in $187.7 million in the first weekend of release.  The first movie in 2012 raked in over $207.4 million the first weekend, setting an all-time box office record.  Think of that:  nearly $400 million in combined ticket sales during one weekend—that’s more than Corpus Christi ISD spends in an entire year, and it certainly says something about our culture: 

We just can’t get enough of our superheroes.

The image of the superhero intrigues us from an early age.  The idea of having incredible power to change the world for the better infuses our imaginations with notions of tremendous strength, unending endurance, and the ability to soar like the eagles.

Invariably, the archetypical superhero is one who discovers her or his powers from within.  How those powers are used for good or for evil is what then drives the narrative.

I had the distinct privilege of hearing many of today’s graduates share their stories when I was invited to participate as a panelist for the senior project interviews at both Branch and Collegiate.  To say I was awed and inspired would be an understatement…and their superhero powers were definitely on full display that day!

Indeed, I believe that each of you graduating today can be a superhero.  You have the potential, and the opportunity, to exhibit your tremendous strength to your siblings and younger classmates who follow in your footsteps…to show your unending endurance to your future professors and supervisors…and to demonstrate your ability to soar for the communities in which you will live and the world at-large.

I believe there are keys that will unlock those superpowers within you, keys that I wish I had known about when I graduated from high school.  Now that I have more grey hair than black and a few months of retirement to think about the past nearly 40 years, I want to share with you today three of those keys I wish I would have known about back when I graduated in 1977.

First, keep your eye on the road ahead of you, not so much on the road you’ve already traveled.  There is a reason your car’s windshield is so much larger than your rear-view mirror…so you can better see all that lies ahead of you instead of focusing on what is behind you. 

Your past is your past, and there is nothing that can change it.  So many people get stuck in the story of what happened to them long ago…blaming themselves for bad choices they made or blaming others for the choices that impacted them.,,or just reliving their "glory days."  They repeat that story over and over and over, never moving beyond their circumstances, never claiming their superhero opportunity NOW.

So here’s the first key to unlocking your superhero powers:  The only value of the past is in the lessons the past has given to you, and how you use those lessons today and tomorrow.  Your superhero opportunity is in your present and future.  Live today, look to the future, and let your past go.

Second, be the person who is happening to the world…not the person who is letting the world happen to them.  It seems there are so many victims and so few victors in the world, doesn’t it?  I bet each of us can immediately call to mind that person who has an excuse for everything.  “It wasn’t my fault…” “She made me do it…” “I can’t help myself…” “Well, it’s because of what he said to me…” “The dog ate my homework…”

Every time those people make an excuse for their failures or shortcomings, they cede a little bit of their superpower, until they are finally rendered as powerless victims.  They never see themselves as having the ability to change anything about their world.  They see themselves simply as victims of their circumstances, powerless to make any difference for the better.

So, here’s the second key to unlocking your superhero powers:  Be personally responsible.  In every situation—good or bad—own the choices you made.  Claim your role in every moment of your life.  When things go well, own what you did to achieve that outcome, and repeat it.  When things do not go well, own what you did to achieve that outcome, and resolve never to repeat it again.  The most powerful position in which you can find yourself is one where you are in control of your choices.  Own all of them, for better or worse, and you will be superheroic.

Finally, the third key is to speak the truth, even when your voice shakes.  I had wonderful parents who taught me to be respectful, optimistic, and—quite frankly—compliant.  “Never do anything that would embarrass your family” was a key element of our upbringing, and I believe that is a good standard to live by; unfortunately for me, I lived that idea to the extreme for many years.  “Don’t make waves.  Keep your opinions to yourself.  Don’t speak out.  Above all, make sure everyone likes you.”

I know differently now.   You see, all of the superheroes we know with took great risks, even if it meant they would be unpopular or endangered.  They claimed their power to confront what they knew was wrong in the world, knowing their own strength and using those powers to advance what was right and just.

So here’s the third key to unlocking your superhero powers:  Be an optimist.  Be respectful.  But above all—be true to yourself.  When you see an injustice, when you hear something other than the truth, when you feel that someone is trying to make you feel small and insignificant—reach deep inside yourself and pull out your superhero powers of persuasion, passion, and persistence.  Stand firmly on your own two feet and speak your truth, even to those who are bigger, higher, and stronger than you.  In doing so, you will rise above them and—even if you do not prevail—you are guaranteed to win the most important prizes of all—your integrity and dignity.

Three keys:  Focus on your future.  Be personally responsible.  Speak the truth, even when your voice shakes.  The quality of your future lies in your ability and your willingness to use these keys to unlock your superhero powers.

I have several playlists on my iPhone, including the music I listen to when I work out.  For that playlist, I chose tunes not based on the beats per minute, but on the power of the message to inspire and motivate me.  In closing, I want to leave you with the words of two of my favorite songs.  The first is from Kacey Musgraves:

Say what you think
Love who you love
Cause you only get so many trips ‘round the sun
You only live once
So follow your arrow wherever it points

And the second, from The Script:

She’s got lions in her heart
A fire in her soul
He’s got a beast in his belly
That’s so hard to control
Now light a match, stand back, and watch them explode
Every day, every hour turn the pain into power
When you’ve been fighting for it all your life
You’ve been struggling to make it right
That’s how a superhero learns to fly


Congratulations, Graduates of 2015.  We are looking forward to seeing each of you use your powers to be the Superheroes you are destined to become!