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This speech was originally given at the 2010 graduation ceremony for W.H. Shaw High School, and has been printed in several venues since that time.  I believe the information remains relevant and bears repetition.
Graduates, parents, students, faculty, families, and honored guests – Welcome to our celebration of the culmination of the secondary school education of the Class of 2010 – the thirty second class to graduate from William Henry Shaw High School.  Parents, together we have gotten them through high school but after tonight they are yours – we will implement a strict no return policy.  I understand that several of you are offering a take one, get one free special at the end of tonight’s program.

Seniors, I would like to introduce you to Tiger.  Tiger, as his name implies, is a small stuffed tiger that belongs to my grandson Justin.  Justin is 4, and Tiger goes everywhere Justin goes - to school, on visits, to naptime and especially to bed at night.  Justin finds comfort in having Tiger around, and at least one member of our family is required to know where Tiger is at all times so when Justin needs that comfort and security he has it.  I’m betting that somewhere in your home in a secret drawer, in a closet or stored in an attic you have a Tiger also.  It might be a bear, it might be a lion, it might be a giraffe or maybe a Barney, it might be a blanket or a special toy, but all of you have one.  I’m guessing you know where it is and I’m also guessing every one of you would absolutely die if your friends found out about it, or even more horrible saw you with it, but that secret friend is there nonetheless to provide security and comfort for the times you need it most, for those times when friends and family fail to provide the reassurance you desperately need.  

You are about to enter the cold, cruel world of professors and employers who will laugh hysterically when you hand them a note from your mother for missing work; who will not be sympathetic that Simon was really rude to your favorite Idol contestant and you just couldn’t come to work because you were too upset   because he was kicked off the show for no reason, and in order to recover you just have to go to Florida next week because all your friends are going and you’ll really need to miss 4 days of work but could you please just go ahead and pay me – in advance – because I promise I’ll make up the time later? You’re going to need your Tiger.

These cruel heartless employers will not only laugh and say NO they will find a replacement before you can whip out your cell phone to text all your friends that you had to quit because your boss was picking on you because she didn’t like you.   Can you believe that most businesses will not require your parents come with you to check in when you are late for the 5th time – they will simply fire you.   Tiger will come in handy at times like those.

You will discover that college professors, strangely enough, will not allow you to stay after class to do work or make up tests you should have done 2 months ago, and in all likelihood will not allow you to stay after class at all.  You will need Tiger nearby as you use your parent’s credit card to pay for the same class next semester.

Your boss will not ask you every day to pull your pants up, tuck in your shirt, remove your tongue stud, turn off your cell phone, change that really cute but rather revealing dress, change those holy jeans, put your tray up in the company cafeteria, stay at work even though you have a hair appointment, sleep at your desk because you were up late playing your Wie or wash the purple dye out of your hair, they will ask once and then tell you not to come back.  Tiger will come in handy at those times.

You will no longer have the option of attending Monday Evening School if you roll your eyes or suck your teeth at your manager or ask him “why you be trippin”, but you will have time to brush that resume up as you look for a new job with that mythical employer who will do things your way.  Seniors, you are about to discover that we have protected you more than you realize and that – starting tomorrow – you will play the game of life by a different set of rules.  Your Tiger may be the only sympathetic ear you can find.

You will find that employers do not have programs that allow you to make up work you didn’t have time to complete on time, that there are no remedial programs to allow you to complete coursework or re-take tests or give second chances at customer service.  Even though colleges have remedial classes, you will find they not only make you pay for them, they will refuse to count these classes toward your degree.  They will also expect payment up front and not on a delayed basis.  Colleges, like life, are cruel and suspicious and will not take into account your social status, number of friends on Facebook or your achievements in high school, but will judge you by what you do and not what you intend to do.  You will definitely need your Tiger at times like that.

So, Seniors – what have you learned in high school?  Have you discovered why every student must take Algebra?  Do you know how the poetry of Emily Dickenson or the quadratic equation song will help you keep your job?  Have you figured out how recognizing iambic pentameter will make you a better wife, husband, or significant other?  If you can quote Marc Antony’s speech will you stand a better chance of starting your career at the top of the ladder?  Does being able to add “and junk” to every sentence increase your chances of acceptance at the college of your choice?  Do passing scores on the GHSGT, EOCT, SAT, ACT, ASVAB, PSAT or MAPS – and junk - insure your promotion from Hamburger Assembly Technician at Krystal to Stock Rotation Specialist in charge of Parking Lot Product Distribution at Publix?  Do your finely honed skills at taking standardized tests guarantee you a management position at Aflac or TSYS or Synovus after graduation?
Probably not – but those are not the reasons you went to school.  Here at last are the three secret reasons why your parents and I and the state of Georgia insisted you go to school:
  1. 1) no one is truly educated unless he is a lifelong learner.  Education does not end with high school - it begins there;
  2. 2) the secret to becoming an intelligent person lies in first admitting how little you truly know, and then doing something about it.  My mother said it best - there is no sin in being ignorant but it is a sin to remain that way.
  3. 3)Our goal for you - in spite of the silly, expensive and useless testing required by the Federal government and the state of Georgia - has not been the accumulation of trivial knowledge and minutia, but to teach you to think for yourself, to make judgments based on research, knowledge and experience rather than anecdotal evidence, hearsay, or emotion – and junk.

Those are the reasons behind your 13 years of education, and what we expect you to accomplish now that you are leaving us and taking control of your own life.  Make us proud – and keep your Tiger nearby.

 Parents, scholarship offers to these students in art, band, chorus, academics, athletics, military service, citizenship and the HOPE program reach a grand total of 1 million six hundred and ninety thousand dollars.  Over 60% of this class has met HOPE scholarship requirements.  Congratulations!

On behalf of the faculty and staff of Shaw High School, thank you to the Class of 2010 for listening and learning the life lessons we have worked so hard to present to you.  

Seniors, later in your life you will be tried.  The time and place of your tribulation may not be set, but I promise that sooner or later it will happen to you much as it has happened to your teachers, your parents and to me.
Those moments are when you will need your secret friend, your Tiger, to comfort you when the world has turned against you and nothing is going the way you planned.  In addition to Tiger you will now have another comfort that no one can ever take away – a high school diploma from William Henry Shaw High School that will open doors and light the darkest tunnel.

Tiger and I close now with a quote from Galileo:

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

To that end, I wish you all good luck and Godspeed – and don’t forget your Tiger.

William Henry Shaw High School Class of 2010 – Please rise.
You cooperated - you have graduated.
Raiders, you may turn your tassels.

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