Lincoln Brown '95

Commencement Address

 

June 1, 2012

 

Thank you Chuck.  To all of the teachers, families, and students here today, I am so appreciative of the opportunity to be with you on this special day.

When Lucy McKinstry called me and asked me to be the commencement speaker, I was caught off guard, to say the least.  Not just for the obvious reasons, but because of the irony with which I stand before you.

The first thing I did was send an E-mail to my closest friends and my Family.  About 15 minutes later, I get an E-mail from My Dad:

“Wasn't this the same school that wrote your parents when you were in the Third Grade, saying that you were disruptive and there was basically no hope for you, and suggested we find another school.  That's what I recall.  If you remember, we did not pay any attention to it as I didn’t think much of the principal.  Forgot his name but remember vividly.  Love, Dad”

Yes, I was asked, in third grade, as a nine year old, to leave TLS.  Thankfully both of my parents were stubborn and told my Principal to go fly a kite.   To be fair, I am sure the  principal probably had a point, and for the record, I remember him much more fondly.

Little did my parents know, that as much as a nine year old could be disruptive, I was an all-star.  And it didn’t stop in third grade.  I’m pretty sure that Ms. Foster can attest, if there was a Hall of Fame for being a regular to the middle school head’s office, I’d have to make the Top 10.   I wasn’t a bad kid, but let’s just say that having to sit still in a class room for eight hours every day just was not my thing.

So in thinking about what message I wanted to impart in the next few minutes, a few things came to mind.

  • If anyone is going to fall asleep, I’d prefer it be the parents or teachers, not the students.  I won’t be quoting Thoreau, Shakespeare, Emerson, or any other poet or philosopher whose names you generally only hear in speeches like this one.
  • I won’t talk to you about your potential career path.  Even though the world is changing at a speed faster than ever, let’s be honest and agree that most of the girls aren’t thinking beyond what pool you are going to later today, and guys, waiting for Rondo to play the Heat tonight.

So, here goes.  There are three main thoughts I want to leave you with.

1) Gratitude

When I sat down to script my thoughts, the word Gratitude kept coming to mind.  Much of the foundation for my life was built within these walls.  No, I don’t mean these walls as a physical structure, but in a metaphorical sense.

I am talking about the teachers that genuinely cared about me (and trust me, I didn’t make it easy on them), that went the extra mile when they didn’t have to, and helped push me every day.

It was the great friends that I still have to this day from TLS.  Of my graduating class of 28, I still talk to at least 10 people regularly, and three of which are my best friends in life.  By comparison, I speak to less people from my graduating class at Wharton/Penn, which was over 2,000 people.  In the world of Facebook where it’s not uncommon to have 2,000 friends, 25% of which you wouldn’t remember their name if you saw them at the grocery store, cherish the relationships you have built here.  They are special and will endure.

I also can’t forget for the larger TLS community, those who came before and after, and as part of that, the parents of my classmates growing up.  Each one was a role model for me in a different way.  Some professionally, some were great husbands and wives, most all were incredible parents, and I learned from watching them.

The walls of this school extend far beyond what you can even comprehend.  You will just have to trust me on this one, as it’s not something that you will appreciate for years to come.

So while yes, The Little Kentucky Derby, The 9th Grade Show, Developing early Arthritis from trying to take notes and keep up with Mrs. Cowling, being so scared of Ms. Foster that I remember hiding from her in a closet, Chicken Drummies and School Pizza, trips to Chicago and Washington, DC- They are all wonderful memories, but it’s the foundation and relationships built here that I remember and appreciate the most.  I promise you will as well.

2) Luck

As part of being grateful, I thought about how lucky each one of us is.  Yes, lucky.  Just by the mere fact that you are here today, you have won the lottery of life in so many ways.   I remember hearing Bill Gates talking about how had he been born 1,000 years earlier, he probably would’ve been eaten by an animal.  He doesn’t appear to be athletic, lacks stature, and would have struggled to make such an indelible mark on the world had he been born at any other time.

You could have grown up with parents who were not able to make the sacrifices necessary to send you to a school like TLS, you may have had to work on a farm and not even been given the opportunity to go to school.  You could have been born with a life-long medical disability that impeded you from even having a fair chance in life.  You could’ve been born in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The list goes on.

There are 6 Billion people in the world.  Think of this.  What if there were 6 Billion Ping Pong Balls, representing each person in the world, and you had one.  Would you trade your ball for a chance at another one?  No way.  What if you could trade your ball and you would get 100 other balls to choose from.

Let me help you with the math.  Only five of those balls would be from the US.  Of those five balls, what parents would you be given, how intelligent would you be, where would you live?    Would you have even a Hail Mary’s chance of being here today?

So for 100 balls, would you even consider putting your ball back in and picking another?  I promise you not.  Therefore, you are already of the luckiest 1% of people in the world.

So the next time you think, I wish I was taller, smarter, better looking, could jump higher, or you get down on yourself, remember just how lucky you are.

3) Accountability

More than at any time in your life up until today, starting in about 30 minutes, you are responsible for the path you forge in life.  There are real consequences to your decisions, both good and bad.  You will be facing peer pressure in a way that you may not be prepared for.

Girls, upon entering high school, older guys are going to overwhelm you with ridiculous flattery.  Don’t listen to them.  Protect your hearts, and remember Actions ALWAYS speak louder than words (no, your fathers didn’t pay me to say this, I actually brainwashed my younger sister on this topic for years).

Guys, as the freshman in high school, you have nothing to worry about.  Absolutely no girls are going to pay any attention to you whatsoever.  Buy some video games.  I think Diablo II just came out.

On a serious note, many of life’s greatest temptations, ranging from alcohol to beyond, will become more and more available.  It all seems fun until you talk to the 16 year old who had one drink, just to fit in, and later got pulled over for running a stop sign, only to end up with a DUI on his record, which continues to plague him for years to come.  And that’s just the PG version of the consequences I have seen some people face.  Just be careful, use discretion.

You will be able to look back on your life in 20 years, to where you are today, and realize that the decisions you make have ever increasing importance.  The college you go to, the job that you end up with, are all the results of the seeds that have been planted in you, and the decisions that you make.  Because of the opportunities afforded to you by your family, and by going to The Lexington School, you are more prepared in life than 99.99% of the world is at your age.

Don’t take this for granted.

And remember that the world won’t be as forgiving as your environment has been up until today.  TLS, and the enduring values that the school lives by, have allowed you to fall gracefully, and get back on your feet with honor, in a nurturing environment.  The rest of the world won’t provide you with this same courtesy.

I leave you with two final thoughts:

  1. If your principal has ever written your parents a letter recommending that TLS isn’t the right place for your education, you still have hope.  In fact, in about 15 years, you may be standing here giving the Commencement Address.
  2. I want to ask you a question that someone once asked me:  “What would you do in life if you knew you could not fail”?  “What would you do in life if you knew you could not fail”?  

-No, I’m not talking about being Lady Gaga or Lebron James, or even Mark Zuckerberg, I’m talking about realizing your dreams in life.  

  • Abraham Lincoln ran for office time and again and kept losing, yet became maybe the greatest leader our country has ever known.
  • Edison struggled for year after year to realize his vision for the Lightbulb, failing over 1,000 times before succeeding.
  • Oprah, arguably the greatest TV personality of your parents generation, and one of the most influential people in the world, was fired from her first job because she was “unfit for TV”.

Neither Lincoln nor Edison nor Oprah looked at their short term mishaps as failures, but as stepping stones to their eventual success.  They wanted to live their dreams.  Nothing was going to stop them.

And stories like this aren’t just reserved for those we read about in textbooks and magazines, they probably apply to your parents and your teachers in one way or another, the every day heroes who touch all our lives.

You have won the lottery of life.  Remember, if you were given 100 new balls that represented a different life, to pick from, I promise each and every one of you that you wouldn’t trade in where you are today to be in another person’s shoes.  And not only have you been blessed on your own accord, but you’ve been given families that support you in a way few ever do or are even able to.  And to top it off, you are graduating today, from what is probably ONE OF THE VERY BEST Elementary Schools in the world.  No, not just in Lexington, not just in Kentucky, not even just the United States, but in the world.

Sure, you will stub your toe along the path of life, but you’ve been given the tools, whether you know it or not, to overcome each challenge head on, and to surmount each of life’s obstacles.

And while you begin the next part of your journey in earnest once you graduate, your families and the lessons you’ve learned at The Lexington School will always be with you.  Be ever so grateful, and don’t take this for granted.  There are about 5.99 Billion people who would trade their ball in life for yours.

To close, I am going to borrow a quote I’ve heard my Dad use often, by Sir Edward Marcum (I have no idea who that is, but it sounds impressive nonetheless).

“How great it is to stand in youth, and dream your dreams before the stars, but what a greater thing yet is to fight life through, and say at the end the Dream is True”.

Class of 2012, thank you, it has truly been an honor to be a part of your special day.