I was incredibly honored to be asked to speak to the graduating class of North Shelby School -- an institution which has my highest respect. Below are my remarks, which lean heavily on a story to which I linked in this space a while back.
Good morning distinguished graduates of North Shelby School. And good morning as well to all students, teachers, staff, parents and other special guests.
We're going to talk baseball today. I'm a huge baseball fan -- used to have those Strat-O-Matic board games where you roll 20-sided dice and look on some chart with teensie type to see if the batter got a hit.
As an adult, there is nothing more relaxing than taking in a game at the ol' ballpark.
And there is nothing more exciting in baseball or softball than a home run. Announcers try to come up with a special "call" after a big blast. "Going, going, gone" "It might be, it could be, it is" and other famous calls bring back memories.
My favorite home run call comes from Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Enberg, who, after a home run, would say "touch 'em all!" of course referring to the four bases.
And that brings me to a story I want to tell you about. You may have seen the story on TV.
In Washington state, a senior on a small college women's softball team comes to bat in one of the last games of her career. Despite being a solid player, she is small in stature. Yet, through scrappy play and hard work, she has kept a spot on the team. Still, she bats near the bottom of the lineup and she has never hit a home run in her career.
This time at bat, however, everything comes together -- she swings as hard as she can, makes perfect contact and the ball sails over the fence.
Imagine that euphoria! At the very end of her last season -- her first homerun!
In her excitement to circle the bases, she misses first base. Then, when she stops to go back, the unthinkable happens -- she steps awkwardly and severely injures her knee. Now, she is on the infield dirt, writhing in pain.
Obviously she is in need of medical attention, but what about the homerun?
By rule, she has to touch each base for the home run to count. Also by rule, her coaches or teammates are not allowed to assist her around the bases.
The umpires confer and decide that she will be awarded a single unless she can make it around herself.
She can not.
Just as the coaches were about to pick her up to carry her back to the dugout, extinguishing her dreams of a first-ever home run, another voice is heard.
"Can I help her around?"
The umpires, coaches and players turn to see that it is the first baseman making the offer. A MEMBER OF THE OTHER TEAM!
Her name was Mallory Holtman and she held every record in the book at the opposing team -- lots and lots of home runs dotted her stat sheet. She was also a senior
The umps confer and find no reason why an opposing player can't assist the baserunner. So she and another teammate lift the runner carefully and start around the bases. They stop at second so the injured player can gingerly rest her foot on the bag ... and so on , until they reach home plate.
Put yourselves in the shoes of those players. Really, close your eyes and feel the moment -- a dusty softball field. Pretend you are the first baseman -- you have literally chosen to help the other team score runs -- because it was the right thing to do. Now, the injured baserunner -- you are realizing a moment of glory that you could not have done without the help of others. And imagine the spectacle from afar -- in the stands. For one moment, the team colors all melt into one and the scoreboard reveals that all involved are winners. Talk about "touching 'em all!"
By the time the players turned for home, fans of both schools stood on their feet, cheering and crying and realizing they were witnessing the ultimate in human accomplishment, compassion and integrity.
There will be cheers and tears here today as well.
But lest you graduates think you are the injured player in this story, let me set you straight. I've spent enough time at North Shelby to know that you graduates and all North Shelby students are the first basemen in the lives of the staff, teachers and parents who are a part of this school as well as this entire Cleveland County community.
How many times have the folks at North Shelby turned their heads in wonder because of something you'd said or done? You inspire so many in so many ways. And you have taught us important lessons of life as well.
While you have learned a TON since being at this great institution, you probably didn't realize how much you have taught others during your time here.
Here are just a few of those things cited by the people who know and love you
Kierra has taught us all patience. She has also taught us that sometimes things fall apart but with enough strength and determination, she has always somehow been able to put things back together and continue on.
Nyda has taught us that great friends mean a lot in life. This is carried out through her daily activities and demonstrated through her facial expressions and body language when she is in social situations. She adores her friends and appears so comfortable with everything when they are surrounding her. She loves to join her friends in singing clips from different songs, and just laughing and talking in general.
Bret has demonstrated sharing and caring for others. He reminds us how important it is to be sensitive towards others and their needs. He has taught all of us that nothing is ever too small to say thank you for or to always remember how important it is to be mannerly by things like welcoming someone into our class and making them feel such a part of what we do. He is the best with teacher cadets, student nurses, HO students, volunteers, etc. of any student I have ever known.
Friendship is important. He talks about how he likes to hang out and do fun things. He looks forward to doing something special everyday. O’Bryan has learned the value of money and how important it is for him to manage his money. He wants to live on his own one day and realizes that it is important to be responsible. He has taught me that once he was reliant on others for almost everything but now he has begun a new pathway in his life. He is moving into adulthood in a world that has so much he can capture and he has his net ready.
Most definitely, "To never give up" Through all his adversity and illness along the way, he always returns as good as new with a smile and often a hug. He has also taught us the importance of a beautiful smile.
I don't want to diminish the incredible education you have received here at North Shelby from the terrific staff here and the untold support of family, friends, churches and others.
But you need to be aware of what you have given in return.
While the world tries to tell you that you can't get around the bases to claim a home run, we know differently -- you get around and you help US get around!
And remember, any of us - -ANY OF US -- can take that awkward step back to the bag that causes us to be unable to continue -- it might be our fault, or simply a cruel twist of fate. But it's how we respond to others who have suffered that misstep that defines us every bit as much as how we react to our own tough times.
Truth be told, it is all of US who need your help understanding and practicing the truly important things in life -- compassion, caring, trust and love.
Often times addresses like these come with advice -- honestly, I wouldn't presume to offer advice to such an illustrious group. But I will leave you a few words of wisdom handed down to me over the years.
First, work hard, play harder.
Cry every once in a while, but laugh all the time.
Ask for help when needed, offer help before being asked.
And finally, be ready when someone lies on the ground in front of you, in agony because of a cruel twist. Whether it be with a simple smile or strength of body, mind or spirit, help them. Help them home.
Thank you for what you have done for your families, your school and your community.
Thank you for carrying us all around the basepaths with your smiles and your effort and your determination.
Thank you and congratulations to the North Shelby graduating class of 2009.
For all of you, this graduation is a long, towering, majestic home run.
Now, as you circle the bases, please look at the faces of family members and those associate with this school, and know that you touched 'em all.