Graduation wisdom and wit

Fred Rogers

OLD DOMINION UNIVERSITY

Norfolk, Va.

A few weeks ago I was privileged to tape a part of the "Neighborhood" with four live elephants: three adults weighing several thousand pounds each and a baby who weighed 450 pounds. The man who oversees their care at the Pittsburgh Zoo is Willie Theison, who loves and respects those creatures so much that all he has to do is say a word and they back up or move forward or get ready for their baths.... It was obvious to me that they know that he loves them....

The thing I remember best about successful people I've met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they're doing ... and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they're doing and they love it in front of others - which, of course, makes for mighty good teaching and living.

In fact, I came upon a sentence the other day written by Ralph Waldo Emerson which I thought would make a great one-sentence commencement speech. Here's what he wrote: "Those are a success who have lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who have gained the respect of intelligent people and the love of children, who have filled their niche and accomplished their task, who leave the world better than they found it, whether by a perfect poem or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of the earth's beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best they had."

David Halberstam

UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

Ann Arbor, Mich.

For those of you who have not exactly prospered academically, let me give you ... [a] bit of good news - you are being addressed by someone who was in the bottom half of his class at Harvard. Or, in fact, if you want to be didactic about it, the bottom third of his class.

So there is life after college, I'm proof of it. And so, might I add, was Henry Ford II, the grandson of the founder of the Ford Motor Company, who went off to Yale in the late '30s where he proved to be a devoted playboy but, regrettably, an indifferent student. In time, with a critical paper due in an English course, he paid a classmate to write the paper for him, was caught in the act, and was unceremoniously bounced from Yale....

Still, the future was not that bleak for him; he managed to get a job after college - with the Ford Motor Company, of course ... and he soon rose to the top, becoming, in almost record time, the president of the company, and thereby one of the most powerful and richest industrialists in the country.

Much later, a somewhat rueful Yale, always on the lookout for a new building or two - the Henry Ford School of Business Administration, perhaps - invited him back for an honorary degree. That day Henry Ford stood up, held up his beautifully written speech, looked at the assembled Yale officials, waved the speech in front of them, and said, "And I didn't write this one, either."

I wrote this one.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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