I was honored to be asked to introduce the 2009 graduating class from Nashville OIC (opportunities industrialization center), a not-for-profit center designed to provide GED and soft skills education to ANYONE who wants it. 117 adults who defied odds, social stigma, economic condition, or whatever obstacle prevented them from graduating high school the first go around walked the stage into opportunity. I cried. I was moved at the stories, the range of ages, the hearts of the families who supported them and the barriers each of them rose above to be on that platform today. For all the education these people achieved (and some came from a 2nd grade level), the true lesson today was for me. For all I have been given and for all the advantages I have been afforded, I realized I have never worked as hard as those graduates did to get where they are today.
Many overcame addiction, incarceration, stereotypes and poverty. The fact that they each made a personal decision to go beyond society’s labels puts me in awe. I’ve never done anything so significant in comparison. I was born into my good fortune and really, from that perspective I did nothing to be excluded from their plight. For that too, I am in awe.
I wanted to write about this because every day we pass people on the street from different walks of life that we either assume are where we are or that they came from the same place we did. If we have a job, if we can pay our bills, if we have a well-running car and vacation money, then we are the minority and we don’t always realize it. I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt this was one of the proudest moments I have ever had for 117 people as a whole and as individuals.
I want to impose a personal challenge today to anyone who happens to read this post; assume the guy in traffic who’s driving aggressively needs our love and compassion today, assume the kid at the drive-thru needs our reassuring smile; assume the woman at the bus stop is fighting for her family’s well-being and could use our encouragement. Somebody out there loved, supported and encouraged these graduates and chances are it wasn’t me.
I assure you tomorrow it will be. Tomorrow, I will wake up with a sense of appreciation for what I have and for what was given to me for merely being a product of the environment I was born into. Today I was given a gift that I can only repay by having an attitude of gratitude going forward. How lucky am I to have learned this valuable lesson from 117 unlikely teachers? Thank you.