Work Hard, Risk Failure!

I’ve sent the graduation speech below to several friends who have high school and college age children and included hard copy in most of the graduation gift cards our family has sent. In returning to read it again I find the messages of hard work and willingness to risk failure resonate at all levels.

Thanks to my friend Jeff Mumper, a proud Purcell Marian High School alumnus Class of 1991 for allowing me to post his speech in its entirety at our website.

Purcell Marian High School Graduation 2015
by Jeff Mumper

I don’t think I’ve been to a high school graduation since my high school graduation. I remember sitting where you are. I remember thinking that this ceremony is great, but I can’t wait for this to be over so I can get on to something else. With that in mind, if you give me a bit of your attention, I promise to be brief.

Graduation Day is the unofficial end of your childhood – and the unofficial beginning of your adulthood. So, what does that mean?

It means that you are moving from a world of fairly limited options to a world with vastly increased options.

You’re moving from a world where talent and ability count for almost everything to a world where achievement is almost totally dependent upon focus, drive, and persistence.

You’re moving from a world where you have to ask permission to a world where you have the power and responsibility to make your own decisions.

These decisions that you make – choosing from all of the available options – And whether or not you possess the requisite amount of grit and desire – will determine your success or failure in life.

That should scare you – but it probably doesn’t. The reason that it doesn’t scare you is that you’re 18 years old – and you haven’t really had your mettle tested yet.

It’s a paradox of your teenage years – and we’ve all been there – the paradox is that you don’t know anything, so you feel like you know everything. You haven’t done anything, so you feel like you can do everything.

There’s a danger in that. The danger is not that you’ll fail when you do try something. The real danger is that when you realize that you can’t do something, you become disillusioned and stop trying anything. Don’t mistake early failures for a sign that you should stop trying. (1)

So – what kind of decisions will you make? Will you be bold and daring or will you take the safe route? How do you know if you’re making the right decisions?

What if you could go forward in time and have a conversation with your 90 year old self? What would you ask yourself? Hey, did we make the right decisions? Did we go to the right college – major in the right subject – choose the right career?

What did we get wrong? What do you regret? That’s the big one. Wouldn’t it be great if you could fast forward to the end of your life to find out what your biggest regret was – so you can come back to the present and make sure you don’t make that mistake?

I’ve been told that if you ask people in their 90’s what they regret – of the thousands and thousands of things they’ve done, they list none of them.

As it turns out, when folks get near the end of their life, they end up regretting the things they didn’t do. The two most common regrets are
– Not helping someone in need when they had the power to do so.
– Not taking a chance for fear of failure and therefore not reaching their full potential.

Ok, let’s come back from our trip to the future and back to today – graduation day.

My guess is that your graduation experience isn’t much different than mine. After proceeding out of here and stopping for pictures you’re going to go to your graduation party.

You’ll be handed envelopes containing graduation cards. Open up the card – hopefully a few dollars fall out – and the cards will all say something like, “congratulations graduate – you’ve done it…job well done, etc”

And below that, you’ll see a handwritten note from grandma saying “wishing you success at Miami University, or wishing you success at Bowling Green, or wishing you success at Centre College or the more generic, but equally heartfelt “wishing you success in all that you do…”

Well, I’m not here to wish you success in all that you do. In fact, I’m here to wish you failure.

You heard me correctly. I wish you failure. More accurately, I wish you the willingness to risk failure in order to achieve something great, because that is the secret to success.
The secret to success is aspiring to achieve something great, having the willingness to step outside of your comfort zone to risk failure and having the ability to bounce back after failure with the willingness to risk failure again…

and again if necessary until you’ve reached your goal. If you don’t reach your goal – if you fail – then at least you’ll fail while attempting to do something great.

One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt. He says, “The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena, who strive valiantly; who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best know the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (2)

The first time I heard that quote I was a freshman or sophomore at Miami. Before a football practice our head coach read that to us. He made it a recurring theme – always talking about daring greatly – challenging us to dare greatly.

I hope you make it a theme for your life – to dare greatly. It’s good to have high aspirations, it’s ok to fail (it’s part of the process), but it’s not ok to stop trying.

I want to end with three things for you to remember. Three themes for having a successful and fulfilling life:

1. Don’t cheat yourself. Hold yourself to a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. (3) Because when your head hits the pillow at night – it’s just you and only you know if you gave your best effort that day.

2. Surround yourself with positive people – people who make you better. Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. (4)

3. Remember that no life was ever made great by always taking the safe route and that when all is said and done – We sing the praises of the Bold Cavaliers.

Thank you for your time – Congratulations – and I wish you success.

(1) Inspired by and adapted from “10 Overlooked Truths About Taking Action” by Kyle Eschenroeder
(2) “The man in The Arena” is a quote from “Citizenship in a Republic”, a speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt at the Sorbonne, Paris, France April 23, 1910.
(3) Adapted from a quote by Henry Ward Beecher, “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.”
(4) Adapted from a quote by Mark Twain, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

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