Let me begin by congratulating all of you on your achievement. Most of you have arrived at this moment along a non-traditional path, often after a number of false starts, and over far more than the usual number of years. All of you have been frustrated—right? All of you have felt guilty about the time your studies took from your other responsibilities—am I right? And all of you have worried about whether you were good enough? All of this is a way of saying that you are second chance learners.
I have been coming to graduations at Charter Oak for 15 years, and I am always struck by two things: first, they are incredibly noisy…and second, they are incredibly happy. Both are true for the same reason—our graduates are surrounded by their families, and those families are here to celebrate.
So as I prepared for this year’s ceremony, I asked myself what it is that makes these graduations so joyful and such a wonderful family moment. Remember, most of our graduates are grownups who have sat in the audience cheering on their kids, or even their grandkids, at similar events. So why are they sitting here being celebrated by their children, their grandchildren, and their spouses?
I think I can answer that. The graduating classes of 2012 are all heroes.
No, you are not heroes because you have risked your lives for others. That is the heroism of our soldiers, firefighters and police officers. But you are heroes because like Hercules with his 12 Labors, you have done a hard thing, an important thing, a good thing, an expensive thing, and you have done it for the right reasons.
First, the reasons: Charter Oak grads are here because they decided to finish their degree. They started something, it got interrupted, and they were determined to make that dream come true. We live in an age where such quiet quests are not celebrated. Instead, we celebrate overnight sensations, teenage millionaires, American idols, reality TV survivors, and stupid pet tricks. But what we are here to celebrate today is a group of people who made a commitment to their education, and stuck to that goal through family emergencies, computer problems, financial setbacks, and bad weather.
You are heroic because you refused to give up, refused to quit, refused to quietly abandon your dream. Like Odysseus, you may have taken a long time, but today you have made it home.
You are also heroes because you are examples. You persevered, and all those around you watched you do it. Your family saw you at the kitchen table reading articles, typing submissions to a thread, taking a timed test, and reading articles on Wikipedia. That homework often occurred during late nights after the family went to bed or early in the morning and even on holidays; but through it all your family was watching. And they are proud of you. Am I right?
So how do I know that you are heroes? I see it in your children’s proud glances. I see it in your spouse, carrying a bouquet of flowers. I hear it in the laughter all around us today. I even watched one of you at my own kitchen table. You have provided your family with an example, with a clear picture of what a person can achieve if they are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work. You have shown your loved ones that it is never too late to finish what you start. And you have shown them that achievement is not about perfection or easy success; it is about perseverance, struggle, and the refusal to surrender.
As Bruce Springsteen so powerfully sings …No retreat, no surrender. That attitude sums you up.
And for me, that makes you all my heroes.