Class of 2004, make a difference

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

To the Class of 2004 … you can make a difference

Be brave.

Graduation from high school signifies the beginning of your next life. For the last 12 years, it has been all about you.

Tomorrow, you become a small fish in a very big sea. Learn to swim because there are sharks in those waters.

You have been comforted, consoled and counseled by teachers and administrators who have given of their time to enrich yours. They deserve a diploma after each year, too. That diploma says God has blessed you with the ability to achieve a goal.

Your parents and teachers have prepared you well — or at least many of you are prepared. Some of you have just &uot;gotten&uot; by for 12 years, and if you are among that group, you are saying today, &uot;Thank goodness, O Lord, I made it.&uot;

For many of you, a two-year or four-year college awaits. Some will go defend our flag, an education in school and life. Some will enter the workforce.

Some will go on even further with their education and become the doctors and lawyers, the engineers and architects, the CPAs and the professors. You will then become the teacher of students.

But today, at this moment in the shining lights, many of you are asking yourself, &uot;What am I going to do with my life?&uot; It is not easy to answer but rather difficult. Let’s face it – you only have 6,570 days of real life experience – if you are 18 – under your belt.

Continue to take notes. And always listen to others. I refer to novelist and former journalist Anna Quindlen’s reference to &uot;life after school,&uot; in her commencement address to the class of 1999 at Mount Holyoke College, when she offered:

&uot;Set aside what your friends expect, what your parents’ demand, what your acquaintances require. Set aside the messages this culture sends, through its advertising, its entertainment, its disdain and its disapproval, about how you should behave.

&uot;…Begin with that most terrifying of all things, a clean slate. Then look, every day, at the choices you are making, and when you ask yourself why you are making them, find this answer: for me, for me. Because they are who and what I am, and mean to be.

&uot;…I am successful on my own terms. Because if your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all. Remember the words of Lily Tomlin: If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.

&uot;…Look at your fingers. Hold them in front of your face. Each one is crowned by an abstract design that is completely different than those of anyone in this crowd, in this country, in this world. They are a metaphor for you. Each of you is as different as your fingerprints.&uot;

Throughout the many phases in your life, you will continue to change. Your challenge is to deal with the changes. It is when you should refer &uot;back&uot; to those Sunday school lessons, to what your parents and grandparents told you would happen, to remember the things that are right and those that are wrong and the things you might do that are even construed as wrong.

Most of all, be positive. Nobody in this world can give you a good attitude or the respect you should have for others. Just as you earn respect from those around you, you must return even more to those who are in your inner-circle and those who are not.

Be honest. Your integrity and credibility are two things no one can ever take away from you, but you can give them away with foolish decisions and actions. Know where the line between honest and dishonesty is drawn. Practice the positive side of knowing the difference.

Always care for your parents and your grandparents, aunts or uncles and brothers or sisters. You only get one family tree along the way that is the continuation of your bloodline. Don’t cut the tree down with harshness or disrespect. Words can be as harmful as actions and it takes a lifetime to restore what has been destroyed.

Hug your teachers. They have given to you something not just anyone can give. He or she who educates others has a God-given talent that endures from generation to generation. It is so often taken for granted, and you’ll miss them when they are gone. It only gets colder and tougher from here on out in the classrooms of the future.

Love your God. No young man or woman can fill his or her soul with enough love for their God. It is a sustaining lifeline, that when all else has failed, there is still one who will always care what happens to you. Believe in your God – either publicly or privately – and you will be rewarded time and time again. It might not be cool to your friends, but remember God is a true friend.

The late President John F. Kennedy told Harvard graduates in June 1962: &uot;As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.&uot;

Life is not easy, but a reality. It can be rewarding for even the pessimist.

Be an optimist. Acknowledge those who came before you and have made your world better today. You can make it better, too. And if all else fails when you doubt your own ability, remember the words of noted civil rights leader, former United Nations ambassador and theologian Andrew Young in a commencement address to Connecticut College in 1998:

&uot;…You have no idea what God has in store for you. It makes no difference what you have done up to now. It doesn’t even matter what you think of yourself. There will be many dangerous toils and snares through which you must pass. But our presence … should remind us that we as Americans approaching the 21st century, we as Americans in a Judeo-Christian tradition, we as Americans with the educational opportunity afforded by this (college), we live in the midst of an amazing grace. And nothing is impossible.

&uot;God has blessed you far beyond your deserving, and you can’t even imagine at this point how much that is. But it’s going to get better from here on in because hardly one percent of the people on the planet have the talent, the resources, the love, the vision and commitment that you have acquired …&uot;

Now go make something of yourself. Your world badly needs you.

Congratulations, Matt. Love, Dad.

Kim N. Price is the father of Matthew Nolen Price, graduating 2004 senior from Oak Mountain High School in Shelby County, AL. He is also publisher of The Wetumpka Herald and former publisher of the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at, or 334-567-7811.