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A letter to the class of 2008

By By Beth Chapman, Guest Columnist
Graduation tends to be thought of as the end of an era in our lives and indeed it is. However, it is also referred to as a commencement service, a time of starting over and having a new beginning. Either way, it is oftentimes filled with feelings of ambivalence – not wanting to leave high school or home, yet wanting to venture out into a new world of independence and growth.
It has often been said that a person who refuses the challenge of life has died without living. I believe this to be true. I challenge you to set some goals for yourselves, have some dreams and don’t let your dreams die, live your lives to the fullest. For many of you, that will mean beginning a college career, for others it will mean getting married or going to work. Regardless of which you choose, you each have your own unique contribution to make to society and to the world and you must make your own personal choice as to how you’ll live the rest of your lives.
The great poet Sophocles once said, “We must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.” We often refer to graduation as your special day, but based on what Sophocles was referring to, it is not your day, but rather your evening. A time to look back over the past twelve years and take a survey of your life’s experiences: the wisdom you’ve gained the various things you’ve learned and the people you’ve loved.
It is a time to move forward as well. Let this be the beginning of a new day, a new life and one filled with anticipation of college days, dreams of marriages and careers, children and friendships and a whole new world of hope, challenges and adventure.
The Great Lord George of England was walking through a pasture gate once with a friend when he noticed that the friend did not close the gate, he said to his friend, “Never walk through a gate that you do not turn around and shut it.” One of the significant keys to a successful life is being able to walk away from an experience such as this one, shut the gate behind you and go on to something new, something exciting and even more challenging.
There will be many times during your journey into adulthood that you will become discouraged and face defeat. Do not be easily discouraged, but rather draw from the things you have learned over the past twelve years to pull you through. You will be amazed at how much you’ve learned when you leave high school. Many times in the future, you will call upon that learning and will use it for your own good. I know I certainly have.
I want to tell you a true story about a once famous highly educated man who learned much about failure and defeat, yet he succeeded. His mother died when he was a mere child, later as an adult, he ran for the state legislature and lost, he entered a business, but his not-so-honest partner put him into bankruptcy, he fell in love with a girl who died shortly thereafter, he suffered from a nervous breakdown, he served one term in Congress, but was defeated for re-election, he attempted an appointment to the United States Land Office, but failed to get it, he attempted to be a lyceum lecturer but he failed that too. He ran for U.S. Senate, but was defeated, he ran for Vice President of the United States, but was defeated once again. This man was Abraham Lincoln.
I say all of that to say this, never in your future journey become overwhelmed by defeat, but see it too, as a challenge. The one common thread that every great man or woman shares is that at some point in their lives they confronted defeat or discouragement and they overcame it. They kept trying and never gave up!
I encourage you today to look behind you, but only for the moment- and ahead of you for the rest of your lives. Have a dream and embark upon making that dream come true, whatever it may be. Contrary to what many people believe today, the American Dream is still alive and well and it’s yours for the taking. Work for it and you will get it! Accept your future as a challenge and give life and the world around you the very best that you have to offer. It needs you!
God gave each of you a special talent and a special contribution to this world or you wouldn’t be here. I challenge you to find that talent and use it, find your unique place in the world and get in it.
For 12 years you’ve studied and prepared yourselves for this occasion. You’ve educated yourselves and equipped yourselves for your future. Carpe Diem, seize the day!

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