My first Commencement, 20 years later

November 10, 2011

As I continue to sort through old books and files, I just came across the speech I gave at my high school graduation in 1991. It’s neither great nor terrible — just an interesting snapshot of how I thought and expressed myself at the age of 18.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Honored guests, parents, friends, and classmates:

To begin with, I want to thank my parents, my teachers, my coaches, and the Rutland High students themselves for everything you have done for me over the years. Without your guidance and support, I wouldn’t be standing up here.

I have agonized for many hours about what I should say tonight, and I was thinking that, to begin with, I could wish my classmates “Good luck.” I assumed that no one would protest such a simple and uncontroversial message. But then why is it that in last year’s Rutland High School yearbook, senior class president Zach Kron wrote, “I wish you all success, profit, and above all happiness… but not luck. Luck is for rabbits.” And Ralph Waldo Emerson — an even greater philosophical authority — once said, “Shallow men believe in luck.” Apparently, luck has a somewhat tarnished reputation. But I believe it’s a reputation it doesn’t deserve.

To understand why we should dare to utter the words “Good luck,” it is important to first consider what luck is. A standard dictionary definition would say this: “Good fortune coming by chance.” This definition seems pretty reasonable on the surface. Still, it does not quite correspond with many people’s understanding of the word.

Students usually talk about luck in situations like these: someone takes many guesses on an English test, gets a good grade, and says, “Oh, I must have just gotten lucky.” Or a basketball team wins a game when one of its players sinks a desperation shot at the buzzer. But is luck entirely responsible for these people’s successes? Most likely, the studying done by the student helped him or her to guess correctly, and the basketball player’s hours of shooting practice were partly responsible for him or her making the shot.

These examples suggest that what we call luck does not occur totally at random, even though a strict dictionary definition might not agree. Instead, luck often benefits those who have worked hard and have earned it. In general, we create our own good luck by putting ourselves in a position to take advantage of unexpected circumstances. The major league catcher Tim McCarver said of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, “Gibson’s the luckiest pitcher I’ve ever seen. Because he always picks the night to pitch when the other team doesn’t score any runs.” McCarver was kidding, of course, but his point definitely applies here. What we attribute to fate or chance may actually be a direct or indirect result of our own talent, determination, or other favorable qualities.

Therefore, it is necessary that, as a class, we don’t go into adulthood passively, hoping that luck will make us a success. In school, we have motivated ourselves to accomplish much academically, athletically, and artistically. Our test scores, victories, and musical performances have all, at times, been made possible by luck, but if we hadn’t put time and energy into these pursuits, all the luck in the world wouldn’t have done us any good. In the future, we must continue to be self-reliant and ready to prosper on our own. Then, most likely, we will get a few lucky breaks that will help us to achieve our goals.

Thus, against the advice of Kron and Emerson, I will say to you, my classmates, I hope that you will profit from good luck — because if you do, you most likely will have done something to deserve it.


  1. As Lincoln said – I’m a great believer in luck. I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.

  2. An anagram of my name is Repeat Luck. Consequently, I find myself noticing luck everywhere. I typically find it at the corner of preparation and opportunity.

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