Recently, I was asked to be the Grad Speaker at my old High School’s graduation. Having attended there (graduating in…wait for it…1988) and also having taught there for 11 years, it was a truly great honour. Here is what I had to say and try to live daily – including at Chez Koop.
2016 SRSS GRADUATION SPEECH
Good afternoon grads, parents, teachers, administrators and staff. I am a big fan of the Regional and have spent many years of my life there so I am psyched to be up here tonight!!
Now, before I go on – I just want to make sure that you asked the right person in our household to make this speech. I mean, it’s an honor in it’s own right to be married to an Olympian but usually SHE gets the “speaking engagement” – you know, she embodies the Olympic credo… Higher, Faster, Stronger… … and while I represent Lower, Slower, Weaker… I was a little surprised.
But I am thrilled to be here. As a former student and teacher at the Regional, I am honoured to be here tonight as your guest speaker. Life is made up of stories. And if at the end of it all – if you have no stories to tell – what do you have? Actually, when I was your age, as Valedictorian of the Class of ’88… yes, that’s NINETEEN 88…. Oh, while I was a student at the Regional, Katie Cooke was completing her first year of teaching (and would go on to a sterling teaching career) and a young, lean, very sexy Don Cooper was just starting out. But as I was saying, in my Grad speech in 1988, I referenced some of the stories of our younger years. Many parents in the audience will remember as elementary students, we read books that allowed us to “See Dick. See Dick Run. See Dick and Jane Run. See Dick throw shade at Jane…“ Ok… that’s not “quite” how it went. FYI…Dick is short for Richard. I’ve never quite got that that…
Anyways, (and YES – my students mocked for my occasional Mennonite accent) but anyways… where YOU’RE at in life – with 13 years of school behind you – it’s like the preface has been written FOR you and now you are about to write your own story. The thesis: What do you want to accomplish in life?
You see, at my age, I’m looking back and I’ll admit, there are a few pages I wouldn’t mind tearing out…well given the choice, probably burn. The unfortunate leather tie I wore in Grade 8, the short, satiny, basketball shorts we were somehow all OK with wearing because it was “in”, my hair style that rocked a centre part complete with feathered bangs… though having said that – I would love to be able to rock ANY hair besides nose and ear hair… and even as a teacher and coach at this very school, the pen I threw onto the court out of anger at a volleyball match only to have it explode dark blue ink EVERYWHERE… yeah, wouldn’t mind re-writing some of those moments. But re-writing “life” isn’t really possible. Leaving the past behind and looking to the future, always learning to be better and always striving to give it your best – THAT’S how you write your story. That’s how I’ve TRIED to write mine… and in doing that – have learned a ton of stuff along the way.
CHAPTER 1: CHASE YOUR PASSION
Maybe that should be titled “Chase your passions.” No question most of us have more than one. But for sure one of my passions when I finished high school was sports… one in particular, volleyball. I wasn’t good enough to be recruited to play University right out of Grade 12 but I was good enough to play at a college in Saskatchewan and after 2 years of that and growing about another 4 inches… I approached Larry McKay at the University of Winnipeg and told him I wanted to play University volleyball. He gave me an individual workout before the actual team tryouts began. It isn’t particularly reassuring when a coach refers to your arm swing looking like a gorilla’s. I have a feeling he was just letting me try out and was not planning on keeping me – but none the less – I tried out as a “walk on” – gave it everything I had and made the team. Now, that could be the lesson right there… I took the risk and it paid off.
But I learned an even greater lesson in what would have been my last year of University volleyball. You see, I was anticipating that a highlyskilled, stronger player (and previously academically ineligible I might add) would be taking my position on the starting line up and I really wasn’t interested in sitting on the bench… so, I quit. I never felt quite right about that – so, only a few years ago, some 25 years later, I met that coach for lunch and apologized for quitting. His response is where my lesson was learned. He told me that way back then, if I had just talked to him about it – he would have told me that I was switching positions and would have been playing and starting the entire season. I can’t get that time back – but I can learn from it.
And so, chasing my passion of volleyball all the way to University – and having success – DID spur me on to other successes in my life… and quitting in the end, when it could have been so diferent, will forever remind me to face setbacks head on and realize that they help you become who you are meant to be.
Chapter 2: IT’S COOL TO CARE
I graduated from the University of Winnipeg and became a high school teacher. I was passionate about teaching high school kids. I loved spending time with my students in and out of class. I cheered for them… HARD. I donned a black afro wig, yellow vinyl gitch and cape to be Sabreman at many home games. I do like think that I coined the legendary Sabres cheer…”We are the combine and you are the wheat”. And of course, my favourite…”Our Coach is Hotter.” It was all about truly caring for the community around me… and showing it. And in cultivating all of those relationships – I learned one very important thing that I didn’t always see a lot of… IT’S COOL TO CARE. Not just about each other – but about what you’re doing. How easy is it, to NOT study for a test and then, upon failing, you blame it on your lack of preparation. “I didn’t study anyway – so, who cares?” But here’s the thing – if you never study – you never have a chance for an ‘A’. And sometimes you study and you still fail – but at least you gave yourself every chance to succeed – THAT IS COOL!! And the effort you put in is NEVER wasted. THAT’S what teaches you. THAT’S what shapes how you will approach everything else in life… It’s so simple but not easy to do consistently. It really is cool to care. This concept is put to the test in fall every year as a Minnesota Vikings fan (and yes Green Bay fans – I am aware we have never won a Superbowl). Something as simple as cheering for a team passionately through good times and bad is great practice in learning how to really care about something.
How hard is it to care about the people around you? If you look at society today – you’d think it was very hard. We’re all so concerned about what’s in it for me… what will ‘I’ get out of it. Now, I’m not sure Selena Gomez would be a role model of choice, especially judging from her latest album cover, but her most recent single is on point, “Kill ‘em with Kindness”. She got that part right. Kindness is potentially the most powerful tool you possess and can control. Complimenting others should be so easy. And as you continually affirm others, it becomes easy to be truly happy for other people’s success. You want a great job, where you will be treated well and climb the ladder – treat your boss with respect, treat your co-workers with kindness, treat clients with care, go beyond what people expect and “crush it”.
Chapter 3: APOLOGIZE
You’re thinking… really… there’s a whole chapter on “apologizing” – don’t worry – it’s a short one and it’s not just because I’m married that I say this… although GUYS, it IS very helpful in that department – no question. And trust me, you will have lots of opportunities to work on this…
Hey, we all screw up in this life. You will too. I know, right now you are completely invincible and pretty darn near perfect – I was too at your age – but when you do something wrong, when you hurt someone’s feelings – even if you didn’t mean too – you have to apologize… and apologize without any “but’s”. “I’m sorry, but…” just doesn’t cut it! In my business… when I make a mistake I have to “own” the problem and when I do… the integrity of an honest apology assures my client that THEIR best interest is at the heart of what we do. Our response to the mistake says more about our character than never having made the mistake at all.
Chapter 4: TAKE RISKS
You see, my story took a big turn about 11 years after I had poured myself into my teaching. I was teaching English when I started doing a little graphic design on the side. Pretty soon, under the leadership of Werner Pries, some colleagues and I worked hard to get the “information science” department up and running at your school. Interesting factoid: Mr. Pries is kind of scary smart. It intrigued me that I could create “art” on the computer… it surprised me when people started wanting me to create things for them… and the more I did “on the side” the more I wanted to risk going for it all. It was scary… owning your own business with no other income of my own to back it up… married, kids, a house, a couple of cars, no teacher’s pension… and I was going to leave a regular pay cheque every 2 weeks, to do a job where if you don’t work – you don’t get paid. AND you have to work in summer…whaaaat? But the flexibility in schedule and my passion for graphic design, business, sports and travel was too strong for me to say “no”. So… I jumped. I took the risk… I worked harder than I’ve ever worked before. I still work more hours than I probably should. But I feel totally inspired. I love my job. The challenge motivates me to always do just a little bit more. And it has opened doors I never thought I would walk through and opportunities to travel and design stuff for people around the world – from right here in Steinbach, Manitoba – where every night is a Friday night. THAT’s cool and worth the risk.
Chapter 5: CONNECT WITH OTHERS
This important concept first came to my attention when I was a teacher. It made a constant effort to try to make a connection beyond what we were doing together in the classroom. I wanted to know my students as friends too – not just – well – students. For many of the students I taught, I had a nickname, that was just one of my ways to connect and recognize what was unique to each of them. It is certainly not the ONLY way but it meant that they mattered to someone beyond just what they were learning in that particular area… and when you work on that kind of connection with clients, co-workers, friends, and family – and you make an effort to remember what they say in conversation and follow up a few days later – you will blow people away with your care and your kindness. Listening is a very valuable skill. When you ask someone…Hey – how’s it going – stop and wait to hear their answer. Actively connecting with others takes effort on your part. But being interested in what others have to say makes you a better person.
Chapter 6: OUTBOUND
So, that’s it. There you have it. Some of the more important lessons I learned along the way.
In the end, your years at the SRSS have shaped who you are. Your teachers are amazing people in the noblest of professions. (I know – I have worked with many of them.) They have already encouraged you to chase your passion and while you do – remember it’s cool to care. Be kind, apologize when you screw up, don’t be afraid to take risks and make an effort to actively connect with those around you. It’s now on you. Write your story.