Seniors, don't be Doug

Stafford Kendall's Speech to Baton Rouge High School
Seniors, look around you.

Even with your parents in the room, this could be the moment where you will be surrounded with the smartest people you?ll ever work with, live with or go to school. The rest of your life, you will be better, smarter, more creative, more rational, a better problem solver and a harder worker than most people you meet. This could be the pinnacle of your life? unless you are careful to risk everything and often. And push yourself the way Baton Rouge High has pushed you.

Growing up, my dad had an old friend? let's call him Doug? who would always talk about how great high school was. He would drone on for hours about every game they played, parties they went to, trophies they won, girls they dated. And once I asked my dad, ?Daddy, why does Doug always talk about high school? Is it because y'all met there?? ?No,? my father said. ?It's because that was the pinnacle of Doug?s life.?

Seniors, don't be Doug.

This could be the pinnacle, unless you are careful to risk everything and often. If you push yourself the way Baton Rouge High has pushed you. Your pinnacle is ahead of you.

My hardest year of education wasn?t at Boston College. It wasn?t in Graduate School. It was my Junior year at Baton Rouge High. (We didn?t have senior projects back then). Junior year Humanities block, college applications, and AP testing were known for stressing us beyond our limits. But that push and stress taught me to love knowledge and I learned how to learn.

At Baton Rouge High, I learned a love of critical thinking. I learned to love theatre. Music. I learned to love history, literature, philosophy. I learned to play tennis... pretty well. I learned to love chemistry and physics. ( I learned how to tolerate biology, calculus. Not to love them.) I learned to lead groups, learned to perform, learned how to show up? and show up everyone around me.

Seniors, 99% of the people you meet from here on in your life will be less capable than you, unless you gravitate to places like this, and people like this. The regular world is not designed to push you and this is not your pinnacle, so challenge yourself.

Remember always -- being anywhere in the group that's the best is better than being the best in the group that's mediocre.

You may think I am different than you. They announced all the awards I?ve won, I am a successful entrepreneur. You?re thinking I must have always excelled, and you aren't the valedictorian, so this doesn?t apply to you.

I wasn?t valedictorian, either. I wasn?t in the top 10? or top 10%, not the top 25%. I was *solidly* in the top 46% of my class. The middle. The average.

Remember always -- being anywhere in the group that's the best is better than being the best in the group that's mediocre.

It?s one thing to be smart. It?s another thing to do the work. You have both. By virtue of acceptance into Baton Rouge High, you were clearly above average. By doing the work to graduate from here, you?ve shown that you can do the work. You can learn. There?s no greater skill in the world. No matter where you go? you?ll know how to go higher, get better, to excel and exceed expectations.

And once you leave academia behind and move into the world. Do the job that inspires you, where you risk your reputation, your livelihood, your security. The passion you hold for the way you spend your life will inspire others, and lead you to a successful and happy life. Why would you spend your time doing something you didn?t love when you can do anything!

In the future, when you are challenged, when it seems impossible, you?ll find a way to persevere. You have a worldwide network that will support you, help you, open doors for you.

My BRHS friends are now in California, New York, Seattle, Austin, Miami, Houston, Chicago, DC? London? Beijing? There is no place I can travel to that I don?t know someone in business, healthcare, engineering, education? someone who is changing the world they live in. Even the ones who barely passed, barely graduated? are some of the finest people in their communities.

You may not know where you?re going. I left Baton Rouge High and went to Boston, certain I would never return to this place. I wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer. My degree is Soviet, Russian and Eastern European History (a really good decision considering the Soviet Union dissolved while I was an undergrad). I graduated from college fluent in Russian and French, Phi Beta Kappa. I was absolutely certain I would travel the world. My plans changed -- I decided to be a teacher. To come home to Louisiana. To go to grad school in education at LSU. I got married, I had kids.

Then, I took a risk, and I started a business.

In the last year, I've been to Miami, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, London, Paris, Chicago, New York. The year before that Colombia, Prague, Budapest, Romania. I worked on a team of brilliant Scandinavian entrepreneurs to bring a new product to LeWeb in Paris because Baton Rouge High taught me how to write. I told a President of a global corporation how to solve a complex problem far beyond my experience because BRHS taught me how to analyze a problem using logic. I worked with a global brand to launch a new initiative in China - a place I've never been, but I know through my BRHS friend, Deborah Yu. I *am* a Foreign Service Officer. I am working everyday to know the world ? and I learned it at Baton Rouge High.

I can talk to business people about atomic mass? the American revolution? the kings of England? the electoral college... Public health epidemics... Toussaint Louverture... Shakespeare? Lord Byron? cellular mitosis... Toni Morrison? mathematical formulas... Malcolm X... Imaginary numbers... and Maya Angelou. And I learned it at Baton Rouge High.

Look around you. Seek this out wherever you go. Look for places like BRHS:

Look for places that will push you. Reputation. Leadership. Results. Traditions.

You have been educated well. The world will not push you to your limits, because your limits far exceed the average. Baton Rouge High won't be here to conquer anymore, you've conquered it. Your parents will stop pushing (eventually).. You must push yourself to your limits.

Let's face it...

You will be good at whatever you do, but unless you push yourself, you will never know how great you will be. And when all seems like it's too much, the worldwide BRHS family will always be here for you.

In my days at BRHS, the movie Dead Poet's Society had just been released. And we often quoted Robin Williams - Carpe diem. Seize the Day.

But, I'll translate for the Baton Rouge High Class of 2013 and say Yolo ? You Only Live Once.

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