Thursday, April 3, 2014

It's Almost Graduation Time

I love a good graduation speech.
Matt Bien is one of the best guys I've ever known. We spent time together at Harding and have tried to stay in touch since then. He's a proud Indiana guy and the greatest Cubs fan I know. Several years ago, Matt got the chance to deliver the commencement speech at his alma mater, Morgan Township.
This is a little lengthy (but worth reading in its entirety) and there are some inside-type jokes he shares with the students and faculty that we won't get. My favorite line of the speech is, "Sometimes you choose your path and sometimes your path chooses you."
This has been slightly edited but I wanted to keep it close to how he wrote it, including the notes to himself in the text.

At the beginning of my speech I saw the photographer sneaking I stopped my intro and stepped away from the podium and mugged it up for him.  Said "ok, that's out of the way...thanks. :)" and went on with the speech.


The MHS Class of 2010 Commencement Speech

June 5, 2010 at 8:45pm
Of course, this is as it was written...things like this (big speeches) rarely go exactly as you write them (I'm guessing) I had to leave a small chunk out due to all my unplanned ramblings during the speech. I made note of it when it happened. Also the opening was completely unplanned, and went over fairly well. :) But because I was making it up as I went ... I remember none of it. haha

Thanks to all the people that made me speaking today possible:

Mom - for the endless inspiration and love, none of this is possible without out. It felt really, really good to spend a little time in your shoes today (she's given 3 Commencement speeches...each one better than the last...:) )

Jen Jen...the greatest sister-in-law in the history of by marriage siblings...and private speech coach...this would not have been possible without your support and help. Love you...ya know, like a sister-in-law (Can't wait to meet my niece tomorrow!!!! :D)

The Class of 2010 for being relentless in the pursuit of having me be their speaker. Nothing in my life has been more humbling than the fight you guys put up to get me on the stage today. Thank you for giving me a day I will always look back upon as one of my finest. Overjoyed I could share one of your finest days with you.

The administration at MHS for allowing me to speak.

All the writers and poets I stole from...I'm sure you, friendly reader, will recognize most of them. Some of them were noted...some of them were not...if you are one of those authors who were not noted...I will offer a public apology should you demand it. :)

Mostly to the handful of friends/family, and you know who you are, who helped me get back to a place where I felt comfortable standing up in front of gym full of people and delivering my message. Without you, none of this is possible...I am blessed to have such a wonderful group of people in my life.

Without further adieu...please enjoy these musings from my favorite day in the year far. :)

Morgan Township Commencement Speech
June 5, 2010

Matthew A. Bien

(my speech comments en paren were not spoken during the speech…I also opened with some improvisational stuff that I really don’t remember…I talked about the song that a few of the kids had just rocked out...a Rascal Flatsy “Life is a Jighway”…there was also a shameless Cornucopia open mic night plug (yup Rich, that happened...haha) hopefully there is a vid so I can remember what I said. haha)

Welcome to the class of 2010…You guys look marvelous and yes, the only thing standing between you and your diploma is me and a slide show and a choir song. You’re almost there. Too bad I’m going to talk for an hour and a half ... so settle in, does anyone have to go to the bathroom? I’ll wait ... no? Ms. Mueller ... don’t taze me ... I’m just kidding about talking that long.

(Ms. Mueller the principal is a volunteer policeperson for the town of Kouts…thus the tazer joke…she carries one when she’s on duty…there are a few other factors that make this funny)

Several people have asked me if I was nervous about giving the speech…There was only one thing I was nervous about when I accepted the gracious offer by the class of 2010 to speak here today.

You see, back in the forgotten days of yore when commencement was in the old gym, the soon to be graduates sat on the old stage while the speaker stood at a podium in front of them…the speaker had his or her back to the class when giving the commencement speech to the rest of the crowd in the gym.

Since everyone here has at least a basic knowledge of the students who make up this somewhat notorious class, you will understand my nervousness…you all know how dangerous it is to leave your back turned to them for any length of time. Imagine my relief when I walked into the gym and saw this seating arrangement…much better.

This reminds me of how I learned to never turn my back on them…

Once upon a time, I had to leave the room for a brief second during my mostly senior filled study hall second hour…I came back into the room to find that the entire layout of the classroom had been reversed…all of the kids were facing the opposite direction…quite disorienting, creative and very funny.

Albeit very, very painful when I sat down at my desk…only to realize they had turned it around to face the other direction as well and hammered my knees into the metal front of the desk…still have the bruises to prove it I think and that was months ago.

Their class motto should be: “Always mischievous…rarely malicious...but watch out for your knees just in case…the MHS class of 2010.”

How did I get here? Well, because these fine students voted for me…multiple times…

But how did I get here.

Truth be told I’m just abusing this opportunity in an attempt to impress Mr. Floran…maybe he’ll finally change my Senior AP English grade from a B+ to an A-

You see…my lofty goal in HS was to be 3rd in my class…or the highest rank I could achieve without having to give a speech at commencement. Partially because of my B+ AP English grade, which I’m sure was deserved…I dropped to 4th during the final grading period my senior year...narrowly missing my goal of 3rd.

But here I am giving a speech at commencement anyway…so I guess I lost that battle on every possible front…unless this speech is good enough to get me a better grade and back into 3rd place. Think about it Mr. Floran…thanks.

As recently as two years ago, if you told me I was going to be speaking at commencement at my alma mater, I probably would have laughed at you.

I simply wouldn’t have thought it was possible. Everyone here had forgotten about me, except for my Mom hopefully and the lingering pictures in random trophy cases of me with really bad 80s hair.

I hadn’t done anything exceptional to warrant such consideration…I was simply working my dream job, in my favorite city on the planet. I was enjoying life.

MHS? Still loved it…still had fond memories…but other than the occasional basketball game, I wasn’t
here much…didn’t know much about what was going on other than what I gleaned from the occasional chat with Mom.

Then the economy tanked and the industry in which my dream job resided took the second hardest hit to only the automotive industry. Shortly after, on Veterans Day 2008, I found out my job had been eliminated in a cost cutting measure.

The day after my job disappeared…I found myself in Las Vegas for my brother Andy’s bachelor weekend. Imagine that…losing a job you worked your entire life one day…waking up in Vegas the next day.

My first official tidbit of advice to you seniors…don’t do that. A surreal combination I do not recommend, God forbid the same fate ever befall you…don’t spend the next 5 days in Vegas. Just don’t.

After taking some time to recover from Vegas and ponder my next move, I heard there was a position available at MHS as a study hall supervisor. As some of you may know, I kind of have an in here at the school…Coach Bush and I have always been tight…so I asked him for a reference and easily got the job.

No, actually, I’m sure you are aware my Mom has been a teacher here going back to the days when everyone went to classes in a three story building that sadly no longer exists. It was she, my personal hero, who inspired me to get back to school…quite literally.

So in January 2009, I embarked upon what I thought might be a brief five month trek through the world of education as a Study Hall Warden…I mean supervisor while I got back on my feet.

As potential accounting job after potential accounting job continued to fall through and the job market worsened, the more I enjoyed being around the kids...and the more I thought about a possible career change.

Then the position of Assisstant Girls Varsity Track Coach opened up last spring…and I got back into coaching; a true love of mine and with that the allure of Corporate America was almost gone.

When nothing developed over the Summer of 09 for me in the Corporate world and the opportunity to coach JV volleyball again presented itself in the Fall…for the first time since I was probably ten years old…I could not wait to get back to school.

Imagine that…in a few short months, I went from what I thought was my dream job in my favorite city on the planet…to waking up in Vegas with no job…*shakes head*…you’ve all seen the movie The Hangover? Child’s play…absolute child’s play.

To surviving that experience and finally finding out that what I thought I loved to do, wasn’t what I loved to do at all.

And why? Because a bunch of bankers decided to mess with the system…because people I will never know decided to spend their companies into holes they couldn’t recover from…

But mostly because these Seniors, who were Juniors at the time, drove the old Study Hall supervisor so batty she was ready to jump at any job in the school system to get away from them. Which opened up the position of Study Hall Supervisor for me...The rest, as they say…is history. Here I am.

Is this a path I would have ever chosen on my own? Probably not. Am I happier, less stressed and more comfortable than I’ve been since I was in college and am I doing work that I love…absolutely.

Seniors, it is important for you to realize that sometimes you choose your path and sometime your path chooses you.

You have to be open and accepting of all possibilities. Weigh every option carefully before making important life decisions. These lessons you will learn as you continue down your path…be it of your choosing or not.

Someone way smarter than me once told me that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.

She and I argued briefly about the numbers, it's something we like to do…I tended to think that with age and good decisions you can drop that 10% into the low single digits if you get good enough at life and in turn keep bad things from happening to you…but she convinced me otherwise, which some of you know is no easy task… but she was right so much of life you cannot control.

But what you can always control is how you react to what happens to you. These important decisions will define your life. They will determine who you are. Always be wise in your decisions.

If you listen to nothing else I say today, please hear this: Life WILL NOT go according to your exact plan…and that is O.K.

Lean in…listen to it again…this is the good stuff: LIFE WILL NOT GO ACCORDING TO YOUR EXACT PLAN…AND THAT IS O.K.

In fact, as I am finding out, life not going according to my exact plan might be the best thing that ever happened to me. Always be open to new possibilities and don’t be afraid to take new chances. Fortune favors the bold.

All of you, no matter your path, keep the faith. Know you are going to see great times and terrible times. Know you will feel happiness and sadness. Keep in mind that it’s never as good as it seems; nor is it ever as bad as it seems.

If you keep your head, while all those about you are losing theirs…you will be fine, just fine.

And finally, just a few quick recommendations from my life that I think can help improve the quality of yours…call them suggestions if you like:

Travel - as much as you can…see as much of this country or even the world if your lifestyle allows as possible…learn about other cultures, eat their food, enjoy their music, talk talk talk…

Never stop learning about the people around you…every life has a lesson that can be applied to yours…learn those lessons, apply what you can to yourself and continue to grow.

Don’t stumble into a vocation - take the next few years to determine what it is you love to do and pursue it relentlessly – I can speak completely from experience here.

I took the easiest path…Accounting and working with numbers has always been simple for me. I was on the track team in college...some of you remember me as hurdler and pole vaulter…no? I thought it was important to have an easy major especially in season.

While I enjoyed working in accounting and especially auditing for over 15 years…I’m only just now finding what it is that I really love to do.

Does that mean I wasted 15 years…not even close…I wouldn’t trade the experiences and fun I had during that time for anything. Everything you choose to do determines who you are...everything.

***For those of you blessed enough to be starting at a college or university in the fall, I’m encouraging you to find what it is you love to do there. You have the greatest opportunity…the next 4 or 5 or 7 ½ years of your life you will probably look back upon as your best days…don’t let those days or the opportunity set before you slip away.

For those of you not going to college, do not think yourselves any lesser for the experience. Some of the most successful and happiest people on the planet never set foot on a college campus.

All of you are going to have to work some jobs you don’t like to do to get to where you want to go…I worked in a dump…separating garbage…yes, that’s a job, separating garbage…in a dump…and I didn’t last long.

You will probably have to work your way though to getting to where you want to be…even if where you want to be is a dump.

Do that work, but know why you are doing it…always know what you are working toward…and keep those goals in mind. After you figure out what it is you love to do…pursue it relentlessly.***

(*** I cut everything between the asterisks on the fly…I was already going to be pushing 20 minutes…time flies when you are giving a commencement speech…who knew? As always, all the tangenting of myself, ad libbing and general rambling I did during the speech caused me to run long….and other than one family telling me I probably caused their roast they left in the oven to be burnt (they also said it was worth it)…I got no other complaints for running long…nor did I get tazed. :))

Average is the new exceptional – Let me say that again, too. Average is the new exceptional. Please don’t settle for average. It is so easy to be a superstar on a planet full of people who aren’t even trying. Take great advantage of this.

Mark Twain said “Always do right…this is gratify some and astonish the rest.” Twain’s quote has never been more appropriate that it is today. Work hard. Don’t be complacent. Don’t settle for average. Be Great.

The final thing I want to encourage you to do is Love. Please take good care of one another. Love yourself, love your family…love others as you would love yourself. Love generously. (I accidentally said “Love generally” here…made a joke out of it, of course) Love constantly, instantly, spontaneously…without thought or words.

Love is not something you think is a state in which you dwell.

Find yourself a good place to dwell.

I’d like to close with my favorite bit of prose by an author whose writings had a direct influence in my life. He wrote this in a letter to his wife…trying to explain how he saw life and the craziness that went on around him…he believed it could really be this simple. I believe him.

The World you see is just a movie in your mind.
Rocks don’t see it
Bless and sit down
Forgive and Forget
Practice kindness all day to everybody
And you will realize you’re already in Heaven now.

That’s the story
That’s the message
Nobody understands it
Nobody listens, they’re
All running around like chickens with heads cut off.
I will try to teach it but it will be in vain,
S’why I’ll end up in a shack praying and being cool
and singing by my woodstove making pancakes.

Thank you Class of 2010 for the opportunity to speak on this…your finest of days.
Good luck and God Bless…Enjoy the Slideshow and song…and finally that diploma you’ve worked so hard to earn. Congratulations.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you CE Butler for sharing these thoughts on your blog. I hope all enjoy reading the speech as much as I did sitting down to write and delivering it.

    - Matt