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The Fisher of Stories


I had the enormous honor of giving the commencement address to the Okay High School Class of 2015 last night, and I’ve had a couple of people ask if they could have a copy. 
Here it is, with changes I made mid-speech struck and highlighted in red. 
I only tripped up in a couple of places, thank God. I just want to say again, this was such an honor. 
Good evening.
Here I decided I probably should thank the senior class, really not sure how I didn’t get that in there, I’m basically an idiot.
In September 2014, I took a selfie with the President of the United States. Obviously I think more of you than I do President Obama, so will you take a selfie with me?
This got struck because Katey Holland decided to do it in her speech, I’m not mad at her. While on stage I decided I’d open with the fact that I’d Googled how to give a graduation speech when I first found out, and then Mariah Whiteday decided she’d use that as HER intro, and long story short, I just winged it. Seemed to go over well.
Thank you.
I first met the class that is graduating tonight in 2009. I was here as the ISS teacher, naturally a very popular job, and I was occasionally a substitute. I can remember vividly things like making Mr. Thurman run extra laps around the gym, making Mr. Thurman stand outside and count out loud to prove he could, and just in general making Mr. Thurman’s life miserable. Mr. Thurman, when you are successful in life, tell them it was Mr. Sloat who built your character.
When I started as an intern in August, I noticed a couple of things immediately about this senior class. The first was your inquisitive nature. Trying to explain a senior term paper to Mr. McVicker was near impossible, but we sewed shut all the loopholes he created, and we got through it.
The second thing I noticed was the fighting. Now, hold on, this isn’t a bad thing. You see, I was raised in a house with three younger brothers. There was rarely a moment when we WEREN’T fighting. So while some may choose to look at your arguments and see dissension, I see a family. Families fight. Families argue. Families take cheap shots at each other over the senior trip. But, most importantly, families love each other.
Fourteen years ago I stood on this same stage in this same gym and I delivered what I was sure at the time were words of inspiration to my classmates. I don’t know if they left inspired, but I left that night with two goals: The first was to one day deliver the commencement speech for a future class at Okay High School. The second was to one day become a teacher at Okay High School.
Both of those have now happened.
I realized suddenly that both of those have NOT happened, because I haven’t signed a contract for next year. I thought it would be funny to jokingly call out the administration and the school board on hiring me next year. This also seemed to go over well, everyone laughed and no one said, “You’re fired.” That’s cool.
That means I get the chance to give you a few pointers tonight that you, like my classmates all those years ago, will probably forget the minute you walk out the door. But first, I want to tell you something I’ve learned during the years in between about things that are fireproof.
Completely screwed this up with my ad-lib comment on hiring me. Completely. I then admitted that I’d lost my place, which is essentially the number one thing you should never do while giving a speech. But, the simple truth is, people screw up, even those of us who you might think have it all together. I’m not perfect, the graduates won’t be either. There’s a life lesson there. That’s how I’m spinning this.
What does fireproof mean?
When I hear “fireproof” my mind immediately flashes to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. The flames danced around them, and yet they emerged unburned, unblemished by the fire. Now, we’re not Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but we all have something fireproof inside us. That doesn’t mean it can’t be touched by the fire, but rather that it will not be consumed. Although the outside may sustain damage, the important stuff, the stuff on the inside, can’t be burned. It’s fireproof.
So the one lesson I’ve learned, that I want to share with you, is that these three things are fireproof. You may find more on your journey, but these are the ones I know:
1. Your dreams — You will find throughout your life that people will try to set fire to your dreams. But dreams? Dreams cannot be burned by anyone but the dreamer. What do you want to do? Some of you may have your life planned out from now until the day you die. That’s fine. Some of you may not have plans that last past this evening. That’s fine too. But your dreams are fireproof.
2. You — Believe it or not, you are fireproof. In much the same way as dreams, the world will try to burn you. A toxic relationship, family that doesn’t act like family, a struggling economy, social injustice and coworkers so bent on making their own way, they’ll throw you under any and every bus they can find. These are all ways the world will try to burn you. But they can’t. You will walk away with a few scars, yes, but what makes you YOU will not be consumed.
3. This town — I know so many who’ve left this school on this night saying “I’ll never be back.” They can’t wait to burn Okay to the ground and never look back. I stand here to tell you that Okay is fireproof. Go on. As you leave tonight, flick your match, drop your napalm. Okay will survive. And when you turn around and look through the smoke to see it’s still standing, remember that some of us, some of us are still here and we’re making a difference. I’d invite you to join us.
Now, here is my advice to you as you go out into the world:
The first thing is, look around you. In the years that come, stay in touch with the people you see tonight. With today’s social media and what’s no doubt coming in the near future it seems like this wouldn’t be a problem, but I think it is. You see, we have a tendency to mistake liking a status or retweeting someone as communication. It isn’t. Before you leave tonight, get phone numbers. Get email addresses, those are far less likely to change. Send a message on Facebook instead of a comment. Don’t be silent when you see their sorrow. Call. Text. Empathize. To this day, my best friend is someone I graduated with.
Secondly, Don’t regress – I think a lot of people leave high school and actually start regressing back to their most basic educated state.  While some of the things you learned in kindergarten — be nice to your neighbors, don’t pick your nose, and sharing — are things you should never forget, you’ll also need things you learned in high school. Yes, maybe even the Pythagorean Theorem, (I spent all day pronouncing Pythagorean wrong, then asked the math teacher right before I went on if I was saying it right. She corrected me, and I spent the last 20 minutes before the speech just repeating Pythagorean over and over. Caught her eye as I said it, and she gave me a little nod, it felt good) although I’m still waiting to use that one myself. Some think the learning journey ends when they leave here, and that’s not true. Whether you go to college, start a career, or just sit at home for a couple of years trying to figure it all out, you will never stop learning. I don’t care if it’s working towards a doctorate or memorizing all of the fatalities in the latest Mortal Kombat…never. Stop. Learning.
Expected a lot more laughs at the Mortal Kombat line, I guess you live and learn.
Another very important lesson is learn how to be charming – Whether it comes down to needing a job or a spouse, you’re going to need a little charm in your lives. Some of you, like Mr. Holman, may have that figured out already. But in case you don’t, here’s how you can be charming: Listen well. Don’t be the talker in every conversation. When someone starts talking, maintain eye contact and let them speak. Don’t interrupt, no matter how much cooler your life may seem. Smile frequently. Provide non-verbal cues that convey your interest. Nod. Shake your head. Change your facial expressions appropriately. Make the person you’re listening to feel like they are the most important person in your life at that very moment. You’ll find that being charming, combined with a lack of face tattoos, will get you just as far in life as an education or a good work ethic.
Another bit of advice is to always see things through – At some point in your lives, you’re going to find yourselves at a job you don’t want to be at, in a class you don’t want to complete, or stuck on the 89th level of Candy Crush with not enough lives to finish. Here’s the advice I’d offer you. Stay focused. See it through. Wait for that next job offer to come in before throwing your computer across the office and leaving a profanity-laden letter of resignation. Take that final exam before skipping the last two weeks of class and getting an incomplete. Go spend $2 on in-game purchases to get to level 90. When you spend the time or energy on finishing something, it provides a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling is addictive, and it’s the one addiction worth cultivating.
Candy Crush line was a bit dated I think, still got a few laughs. Probably should have researched the latest and greatest app, but I didn’t think I could work a Tinder line in there.
The last token of knowledge I have for you is Take your time…if you want to — There’s a quote that goes around every teacher’s social media this time of year. It says, “We’re asking young people to make decisions about their futures and their careers, when a month ago they had to ask to go to the restroom.” There is an enormous amount of truth in that statement. If you need some time, take it. That doesn’t mean ignore your responsibilities, but if you want to work a job instead of going to college while trying to piece together what you want your future to look like, go ahead. You may realize that computer technology isn’t for you, and you may get married, drop out of college twice, adopt a few kids, then go start a degree in education and come back to where it all started. While I don’t recommend that road, I can say without hesitation that I’d do it all again in a heartbeat, because I am truly happy. The time I spent figuring out what I wanted to do with my life was not wasted. You cannot waste your time, your youth, or your potential: these are fireproof things and they are yours to spend as you choose, according to your needs.
I would be doing a disservice to you if I did not leave this stage tonight without giving you the exact same words I gave my fellow graduates 14 years ago.  Words that can be found in the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 29 and verse 13.
My lovely wife sent me an email at 3:30 in the morning saying, “Isn’t it Jeremiah 29:11? It totally is, and I’m very glad she caught it.
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.

Go. Be great.
I really wanted to scream this last line, or at least deliver it with more authority, but I couldn’t figure out how closely to hold the microphone to my mouth without blasting everyone out of the gym. Live and learn.

image credit

I’m going to do something very unusual on this blog today.

Some of you may be familiar with my “Why Music Sucks Now” posts, but while this post will focus on music, it will not be focused on horrible music. Actually the song and artist I’m discussing today are both amazing.

You are familiar, I am sure, with George Strait. I am sure you’re also familiar with his hit song, “I Can Still Make Cheyenne.”

I guess the video won’t play through the blog because UMG is a bunch of ninnies, but click on through and familiarize yourselves.

I have a mind-bubbling theory about this song. It occurred to me whilst driving down the road the other day, and hit me so hard I almost had a wreck.

Here’s the theory:

Only the first thirty seconds of this song actually happened. Everything after is a fictional representation of an imagined ‘worst case’ scenario that played out in her mind immediately after picking up the phone. 

So let’s break the song down before we go on.

Scene is set at a house, the phone rings, it’s late, the woman’s man-friend is on the line. He’s had a hard go at the local rodeo, and he failed to qualify for the next round. Tired and beat up, he decides he’s coming home.

But alas, while he has been out riding bulls and carousing with cheap women (probably) his significant other has taken another lover, and he “sure ain’t no rodeo man.” She tells her man-friend not to bother coming home, that she’ll be leaving and won’t be coming back.

Saddened, but not surprised, the man-friend simply says, “It’s totes cool, babydoll, I’d leave me too, but I gotta go, cause there’s a rodeo up in Wyoming and I think I can get there if I leave RIGHT THIS SECOND.”

Then there’s some driving, the chorus again, and before you know we hit the end of the song, which repeats the first few lines.

She never knew what his calls might bring,
With a cowboy like him, it could be anything. 
And she always expected the worst in the back of her mind.

And there we have it. Those three lines give us all we need to know that almost the entire song has been a figment of her imagination, which played out in the span of a few seconds between her answering the phone and him leaving the phone dangling off the hook.

Confused? So was I at first.

You see, she was so worried about what he might say when she picked up the phone, that she subconsciously created a scenario in which he told her he was coming home, and she told him she’d found someone else (she hadn’t, really, it was a test, women always come up with these little tests) and he didn’t even bother hanging up, didn’t get mad, just said, “Baby that’s cool, I gotta bounce though.”


She always expected the worst in the back of her mind

Him not caring about her leaving is the worst thing she can think of.

So George, the master of Inception-esque temporal physics it would seem, has basically sung us a three minute ballad the equivalent of Bruce Willis being dead the whole time.

So, if you were as concerned as I always was for this tragedy of a romance, take heart, it never actually happened. The whole thing was a dream.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

Also, as a complete side note here, there’s no way George Strait and I aren’t related somehow. You put a hat on me and there’s virtually no difference in our looks. Uncanny really.