A congratulatory message to the Wisconsin graduating class of 2020

June 11, 2020

Darrell L. Williams, Ph.D.

Dear Graduates,

I want to take this moment to congratulate all of the Graduates of the Class of 2020. What you have accomplished during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history is nothing short of miraculous. Each one of you have already exhibited ‘a lot’ of what it will take to be successful as you navigate through life. You have exhibited calmness in a time of chaos; focus in the midst of distractions; but most of all, you have shown ‘resilience’ as we ‘Bounce Back’ from the impact of COVID-19.

I understand that many of you may have been disappointed about not having prom or the traditional graduation ceremony. However, ‘sometimes in life’ when there appears to be no silver lining, you must draw one yourself. So, I ask you ‘not’ to view this situation from the standpoint of what you lost, but from the perspective of what you have gained. By your accomplishment, you have gained the respect of an entire nation—as you are the first to accomplish a feat that has never been done in our lifetime—and I ‘for one’ congratulate you. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.”

Graduates of 2020, this is your time to shine. You were On Time! On Task! and you were On a Mission! Because you Cooperated and Participated— now you have Graduated! A few years ago, you entered school unsure and uncertain of what you would encounter. When you entered school, you entered to learn. Now as you leave, you exit to serve. However, you exit prepared and equipped with a unique set of academic and social skills to help you succeed in this ever-changing world. Graduates, in a world filled with uncertainty, change is the only constant. You must either change with change or be consumed by change—’and the reality is’ ‘the only people who like change are babies!’ But I challenge you to be the change you want to see in the world.

Graduates, what legacy will you leave for others to emulate? Will you soar high like an eagle? Will you go down the path that someone else made or will you be a trailblazer and blaze a path where no one has gone before? Will you be a problem or a problem solver? Will you destroy the bridge or be a Bridge Builder? Graduates, ‘in life’ world, the race is not given to the swift or to the strong but the one who endures until the end! Successful accomplishment of your goals ‘you will find’ is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. In that spirit, ‘as you graduate’ you have not reached the ending—but the ending to a new beginning.

As you sit here at the crossroads of your life, many of you will go to college, some of you will pursue the skilled trades, some of you will join the armed services, many of you will be entrepreneurs and a few of you are still unsure. As you move forward and in whichever direction you choose, I challenge you to choose the road less traveled. Edgar A. Guest (1942) wrote, “Figure it out for yourself my lad. You have all the tools the greats have had—two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes, and a brain to use if you would be wise! With this Equipment, they all began—so start for the top and say, “I can.” Dr. Seuss said, “You have a brain in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”

Graduates of 2020, the future belongs to those who prepare for it today. You can use your skills to take control of your life or you can allow life circumstances to control you. Life experience is the greatest of all teachers and it will knock you down ‘at times’! But it is not about how many times you get hit or knocked down but how many times you get back up and keep moving forward!

The road to success is always under construction. But despite life’s pitfalls, never let anyone take your spirit and always must remember that you still have value. Graduates, I want to tell you a quick story about a watch…

Before dying an elderly father once told his child: This is your grandfather’s watch and it is a couple of hundred years old. But before I give it to you, please go to the watch shop and see how much they will offer you.

The child went, and then came back, and said the watchmaker offered 6 dollars because it’s old. The child’s father then said, “Go to the coffee shop.” The child went and then came back, and said, “They offered me 3 dollars.”

The child’s father then said, “Go to the museum and show them the watch.”

The child went and then came back and said, “Father, they offered me a million dollars for the watch.” The father said to his child, “I wanted to let you know that the right place values you in the right way. Don’t find yourself in the wrong place and get angry if you are not valued. Those that know your value are those who appreciate you and don’t stay in a place where ‘nobody’ sees your value. Never doubt, and always believe in yourself by knowing your worth.” However, Graduates, ‘you need to know,’ despite having value, things will not always be fair. The reality is, “The only thing in this world that is fair—is the county fair!” The truth is, ‘in life,’ SOMETIMES YOU ARE THE PIGEON AND SOMETIMES YOU ARE THE STATUE. Ironically, sometimes you will be both.

To the Class of 2020, the goals and choices you make today will impact you tomorrow. Therefore, I challenge you to choose your friends carefully. Do not measure your friends by Facebook or measure your worth by ‘likes on a post.’ If you don’t remember but one thing, remember this, “Friends are like diamonds most precious and rare, but fake friends are like autumn leaves, they fall everywhere.”

‘Graduates,’ as you ponder about the next step of your life, I encourage you to think about the fierce urgency of ‘right now!’ You are ‘now’ the they that we talk about. You are the one who the world is depending on to champion the causes to make our world a better place than the one we found. Graduates, you will not live forever ‘as many of you think at this moment.’ Our goal should not be to live forever but to create a positive legacy that will!

A wise poet once said, “I have only a tiny minute, with 60 seconds in it, forced upon me, I can’t refuse it. I did not seek it! I did not choose it, but I will suffer, if I lose it. I must give account for it, if I abuse it. It’s just a tiny little minute, but eternity lies within it.

So, ‘Graduates’ use your time wisely and stay focused on your dreams. But remember, you only dream when you are sleep. You must wake up and take action steps to make your dreams a reality. Not only do you owe it to yourself, but you owe it to a whole generation of people who fought and died ‘just’ for you to receive a quality education and for you to have a seat at the table.

I once heard that, “A child only educated at school is an uneducated child.” Therefore, as you reflect on this important milestone, ‘if you are honest,’ you will realize that you did not accomplish this on your own. I want you to thank your parents and guardians and other loved ones who reared you and helped you along the way. Thank your teachers and administrators— who never gave up on you and who helped prepare you for life beyond these physical and mental walls. Thank those who never gave up on you, when you thought about giving up on yourself. As well, thank those businesses who helped you by providing many needed resources as well as meaningful educational experiences and job opportunities. Say, “Thank you for your service,” to all of the Soldiers serving in ‘combat’ overseas, as well as those Soldiers, first responders and other agencies who are standing on the frontlines fighting this horrific pandemic called COVID-19. It is because of them and the blanket of freedom they provide that has allowed ‘both’ you and I to be here today. And lastly, I want you to thank those haters and doubters who thought you would never make it. Thank them for giving you the fuel and the motivation to rise ‘High’ above the low expectations they had of you. Let this be a lesson, “Never let the expectations of others be higher than the expectations you have of yourself.”

Again, to the Graduating Class of 2020, what you have achieved during this unprecedented and historic time is more than commendable. Let me assure you that when the book is finally written and the scroll of courage, perseverance and resilience is read, your names will proudly and most deservingly be among them. As you write the next chapter in your book of life—do not let someone else hold the pen! Write your own story and make sure it a best seller! I, ‘for one’ look forward to reading it. Congratulations!

#To all who read this message, our work is not done. Let us continue to support our Graduates by showing them the right way and being a positive example for them to follow.

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