On Saturday I had the distinct honor of being the commencement speaker at the Class of 2013 Western Plains High School Graduation in Ransom, Kansas.
I can’t possibly describe how grateful I was to be asked to do this. It was truly an honor. That place still means so much to me, and those students will always hold a special place in my heart.
Since most of you reading this probably weren’t there, below is the speech I wrote.
I hope the students of WPHS got something out of it. I hope they enjoyed the speech as much as I enjoyed giving it.
If you like it too, please let me know in the comments.
— Mr. T.
2013 Western Plains High School (Ransom, Kansas) Commencement
May 11, 2013
Go forth and do good; create your legacy by following your passions
By Todd Vogts
First, I want to thank the Class of 2013 and Debbie Hagans for having me here today to deliver the commencement address. It is an honor for me, and I am grateful for the opportunity.
Being here today is special to me for many reasons. First, this is where I started my career as an educator. I experienced and learned more during my time here than I could possibly describe. I made life-long friendships while I was here, and I cherish those friendships. I look back at being a Bobcat with fond memories. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about Ransom at least once a day.
However, this event is particularly special to me because the Class of 2013 is what I consider my class. My first year here, these young men and women were freshman. I have watched them grow up, and I could not be prouder of them. Many of them were my students at one time, and it brings me joy to see them succeeding in all aspects of life. Sure, a couple of these soon-to-be alums of Western Plains tested me at first. One person in particular made the mistake of using his cellphone in class. After I took it from him and he responded in a very memorable fashion, he spent some extra time at the school after the final bell. Still, he, along with the rest of this class, have shown me time and time again how incredible they all are. They have shown character in the face of adversity and reached new heights in their successes.
It is without a doubt that I say we live in very troubling times, and these students have had a front-row seat to the recent history of negativity that has beseeched us all. Locally and nationally, they have been witness to tragedy. Most recently, during their senior year, the world has been shocked by the mass shootings at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and the grade school in Newtown, Connecticut. Prosecutors in Texas were murdered, and the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was bombed.
In this wired and digital day and age, these tragedies were brought directly to these students, and being concerned for their safety would be a normal reaction. However, I urge you to look at what happened in the aftermath of each of these horrible occurrences. People came together. The resilience in every human being showed through brightly. For example, runners in the Boston Marathon not affected by the blasts crossed the finish line and ran two more miles to a hospital to donate blood in order to help the injured.
That’s incredible, and it goes to show there is more good than evil in this world. Class of 2013, don’t lose faith in humanity, and upon leaving these hallowed halls, I urge you to go forth and do good in this world. Be a cause for change. Stand up for what you know in your heart to be right. Remember where you came from. The people of western Kansas are some of the best people on Earth. When a neighbor is in need, they step in and help. They look out for each other. They are willing to lend a helping hand no matter what. Remember that, and act accordingly. Follow the lead of this community, no matter where life takes you, and be the good that prevents evil from rearing its ugly head.
The best way to do that is to always give your best effort in all that you do. In college or in life, do your best. Work or study hard. Doing so will be made all the easier if you find your thing. That one thing you love. That one thing that is your passion that renders waking up in the morning not a chore but a joy because you look forward to doing it.
As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
For me, that job is two fold. I relish my role as an educator, but I have wanted to be an author since I was in the fourth grade. I even still have my very first piece of fiction. It was less than a handwritten page long. It was about a quarterback’s arm that was dislocated and torn from his body. Then it came to life and attacked all the players on the field until it could be captured and destroyed. It was a strange story, and I only bring it up because when I look at that piece I realize how far I’ve come as a writer.
As most of you know, I have published a novel. It has been one of my greatest joys to see it on the shelves of libraries and bookstores. It is a dream come true, and though the road to being published was long and challenging, it never felt like work. I loved every minute of it! I couldn’t wait to sit down at my computer and write more of the story.
Since then, I have begun writing a follow-up novel, but starting it took far longer than it should have. If it weren’t for one inspirational book, I don’t know if I would yet have been started on my second novel.
That book was “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield, who is the author of, among other great works, “The Legend of Bagger Vance.”
In “The War of Art,” I found the encouragement I needed. Pressfield’s mantra was, “sit down and do your work,” and I took that to heart.
I got to work, and I made great strides in my second novel. I was over joyed. I got home from school each day eager to enter the world of my main character, Tyler Fox, and write.
Pressfield also wrote about what can get in the way of writing, or whatever your passion is. He called it resistance. Resistance comes in many forms, but the way to deal with it is to give your best and do your work. Don’t let resistance win. Take yourself seriously. If you are passionate about something, do it like it is your profession. Your calling. Don’t treat it as a mere hobby. Do your work.
I urge you to do just that. Do your work. Follow your passion. Be a cause for good in this world. Vanquish evil.
Do as philosopher Alan Watts proposes. Think about what you would do if money were object. What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about making a living? Whatever that one thing is, do it. That is your passion, so go do it. Money and everything else will fall into place, and you will lead a happier, healthier, more productive life. You will become a cause of good in this world.
You are in control of your future. That control lends you a great power over your life and lives of those around you. Take that responsibility seriously. Leave a lasting legacy that is uniquely yours. For if you don’t, you risk denying this world something important.
Regardless of your unique passion, the legacy that is to be, the work that is to be done, only you can make it happen. Pressfield summed it up the best at the end of his book. He said:
“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answer by action.
Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
So go forth and do good. Create your legacy by following your passion. Sit down and do your work.
To the Class of 2013, I say congratulations on your accomplishments. I think I can speak for everyone here when I say, we are rooting for you.