“Good afternoon to each of you in the Baltimore Civitas School community. Principal Rivers, staff, parents, volunteers, students—and most of all—the Class of 2012, thank you for the privilege and honor of delivering the commencement address for the Baltimore Civitas School’s first graduating class of 2012.
In preparing for today’s talk, I did some research on your school’s mission and vision—particularly how the Class of 2012 has identified and applied the four pillars of excellence: 1) presence, 2) achievement, 3) engagement; and 4) community service.
I wondered to myself, ‘How have I applied these principles to my own life? What is it that I can share with these proud graduates as they enter the next phase of their lives that might possibly inspire them to continue on their path of success?’
I will share that with you shortly. But first, let’s take a look at your successes. I have learned just some of many of the accomplishments and activities of the Class of 2012—specifically at how you applied the four pillars—and I can tell you the effects are quite impressive. Let’s take a quick look…
- Presence: As a group, your class attendance is very high. In fact, you have significantly topped the average attendance of Baltimore City schools. You got up, you came to class, you participate and you led underclassmen with your shining example.
- Achievement: Nearly all of the senior class is graduating. That is truly remarkable! And, even more impressive, many of you are continuing on to college and trade schools.
- Engagement: As the first graduating class, you helped to create your school’s curriculum. That includes classes and clubs such as choir, drama, African dance and drumming, video and technology, dance classes—including both a boys and girls step team—a winning debate team, a national award-winning spoken word program, a new sports program, and much, much more. Plus a full five percent of your graduating class received the Doug MacIver Award of Excellence. Give yourselves a hand.
- Community Service: As I did my research on your school, I was particularly moved by the level of service that the Class of 2012 has devoted to the local community. Many of you have overcome significant personal challenges to help others. And, I know it hasn’t always been easy. Whether mentoring young students at neighboring elementary schools, organizing a community health fair or helping to improve your community in other ways—these are achievements that not only serve the community and make it a better place in which to live, but these accomplishments go a long way toward making you better prepared for a successful future as our next generation of leaders.
So, besides being proud of these impressive goals and accomplishments I wondered, ‘What can I share with you that could help continue this path toward success and happiness. And how do success and happiness go together?’ So, here are three things that I have learned that I want to share…
Very early in my life I struggled in school. In fact, I was labeled an ‘average student.’ So for years after wearing that label, I believed I wasn’t a good reader and I wasn’t good at math…and I wasn’t a good student. Because of those beliefs, I gave up on the thought of going to college in my early years of high school. Looking back at my life now, I realized that I excelled by using my social intelligence skills. It was my personality, it was my networking skills and treating those around me with respect that helped me move up the corporate ladder. Despite what others led me to believe early in my life—that I was an average student—I eventually went back to college, but not until I was 40 years old and received a college degree at the age of 44. That is not the path I recommend you take. So, the first message here is: don’t let others dictate your path in life…you can do whatever you set out to do.
Another message I would like you take away from today is this: While I wish each of you much happiness and success, everyone in this room—throughout the rest of your life—will have a series of highs and lows. For example, the highs may include: you graduate college, you buy a new car, you get a new job or you run your first marathon. But, you will also have low points or challenges in your life. You may get injured or become ill, you may lose a job, or you may experience the loss of a close friend or family member. These are all life experiences we need to learn from. And how you deal with them will determine how much you grow personally. We need to use these experiences to become stronger. So the message is this: Learn from all your experiences, both good and bad. Use them to make you a better person tomorrow than you are today.
The third message I want you to take away from today is: Don’t compare yourself to others. The only person you should compare yourself to is you.
If you learn these three lessons you will find happiness, and being happy will bring you success.
In my opinion, happiness is the true secret of success. But, don’t take my word for it. More than ten years of research in the world of business proves that happiness raises almost every conceivable outcome. When people are happy, sales rise by 37%, productivity increases by 31%, accuracy improves by 19%–plus there are a whole host of quality of life and health benefits derived from personal happiness.
Shawn Achor (‘acre’), the author of The Happiness Advantage, spent 12 years researching at Harvard, and is now CEO of Good Think, Inc. He wanted to know the science behind happiness, and here is what he found: Happiness actually raises every single business and educational outcome for the brain. He asks, “How did we miss this? Why do we have these societal misconceptions about happiness?” Is it because we assume we are average—and average people don’t deserve to be happy? Is that true? —we are not average and we all deserve to be happy.
This author said, ‘When we study people, scientists are often interested in what the average is. If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average.’ Achor tells us, ‘The greatest cultural myth in modern society is that we cannot change. Research proves that you can not only become more positive, but if you prioritize happiness in the present, you can reap an extraordinary advantage.’ As a student, I considered myself to be average. But now, I know I am not merely ‘average’—and neither are you.
Now, ask yourself: ‘What can you do every day—for the rest of your life—to be personally happy, to share happiness, and to reap the many benefits of happiness?’
That is the challenge I charge you with now and from this day forward.
Go out and be happy.
If you are happy, you will succeed.
Thank you and, once again congratulations Class of 2012!”