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!