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Hello to all graduates everywhere.
When I was a toddler many, many centuries ago, my parents, like many other great parents, would read me bedtime stories. One of the stories that made a deep and early impression on my life involved an engine of a train that, when faced with an obstacle, would be known to say, “I think I can. I think I can.” I believe the story was called "The Little Engine That Could" by Platt & Munk. I also believe that you may know it as well.
In many ways, you have lived that story. In fact, you ARE that engine. When faced with obstacles in your life, you had to say to yourself the words, “I think I can. I think I can.” What happened? Believe it or not, you accomplished it. If you didn’t, you would not have been able to feed yourself, clothe yourself or even walk. Am I wrong? I think not. You had to find a way to learn your activities, learn words, sing, dance, ride a bike, skate, and a whole host of activities. Through it all, you had to say to yourself, “I think I can. I think I can,” and you believed it. Before you knew it, you were doing these activities like the older children in your neighborhood. You wanted to be just like those older children.
When you got a bit older, you may have thought that the story was a bit silly to think about, but guess what—you were still living it. You, at some point in your life, entered a preschool or even Kindergarten. You learned how to work in a group called a class. You were now also a part of something called a school. You learned to be just a wee bit more independent than you were a year before that. You mastered it because you said “I think I can. I think I can.”
Then came first grade. Again, you added more activities to your vast repertoire. You received textbooks and something called homework. You started taking something called “tests.” It was tough, but you told yourself, “I think I can. I think I can.”
Then came second, third, fourth and fifth grades. In each of those years, you mastered all of those grades by simply telling yourself, “I think I can. I think I can.”
By the time you entered the sixth grade, you saw that your time was getting close and, soon, you would have to get ready for graduation. The work got tougher. Much more was expected of you. You may have had to take care of a younger brother or sister. You had to do well in school. Mom or Dad gave you more chores at home. You had to get along with your classmates. You had to deal with a mean, old, sixth-grade teacher who only spoke of spelling bees and science fairs. Still, through it all, you said, “I think I can. I think I can.”
You stayed on the top floor and continued through the seventh grade. You had even more to do. You still had to deal with that big, old mean teacher from the sixth grade. Still, you said, “I think I can. I think I can.”
This year, you completed your last year here. Now, that big, old mean teacher from sixth grade was your homeroom teacher in eighth grade. The younger students were now looking up to you. They wanted to be like you. You mastered everything we could give you. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be here today. You made all of your teachers—past and present—very proud of you. But, it is not over yet. This event is known-yes-as a graduation. It is also called a commencement exercise. The word “commence” means “to begin.” It is the beginning of the next level of your life. From this point on, life is going to throw many things in your way, too many to mention tonight. You will be expected to meet many expectations and challenges—further your education, seek employment, perhaps raise a family or seek a vocation. You can do it. You must set yourself to meet even your expectations of yourself. You learned how to set your own goals. What is your goal? All you have to do is say not, “I think I can. I think I can.” but “I know I can. I know I can.”
When I was much older, I learned a new story. We talked about it extensively in class. I hope you keep it in mind whenever you feel that times are tough. I know you can! I know you can!
Times may get tough. You can do it. I know you can. I know you can. Try to remember the bumper sticker that I showed you in class. It said, “You NEVER fail until you STOP trying.” I know you can! I know you can!!
Remember the concerts, the carnivals, report cards, Spelling Bees, oratorical contests, birthday celebrations and my personal favorite-the Science Fairs. Who could forget all of that pizza? I couldn’t. Remember the trips we took? Remember those who were so willing to come back to school that they gave up part of their summers to help prepare for the opening of school. Remember and cherish those memories that made you smile. Most of all, remember how excited you were when you felt that you have grown-spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally-from one year to the next.
In closing, it was my pleasure to help you. You prepared yourself well. Never stop believing in yourself. Everyone who is here with you today did not stop believing in you, either. Always remember the great times you had—the times where you had fun as well as the times when you needed someone just to listen to you. You learned a great deal this year.With that, I send you with my blessings. Please take your rightful place as the graduates in this very challenging world. Thank you and congratulations.