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Gaithersburg HS Commencement

Theme:  Winning in the Game of Life
Graduation Speech Topic:  "Do You Want To Be A Winner?"
(A Speech for the Gaithersburg High School Commencement)

  1. What is a winner? How do we know who is a winner?
    1. Sports examples:  Indianapolis Colts-winner of the 2007 Super Bowl; Tiger Woods-the best golfer in the world and one of the best in history; Michael Jordan-perhaps the greatest basketball player to ever live and a standard by which all winners are judged.
    2. Non-sports examples:  Oprah-a multi-talented billionaire and one of the most influential people in the world; Nike, Coca-Cola, Russell Simmons-the hip-hop mogul; or Bob Johnson, the billionaire businessman who founded and sold BET.
    3. Do you want to be a winner?
    4. We can gain insight into what it takes to be a winner by looking at winners!
  2. What characteristics do they have in common?
    1. They (or the people who founded them) set high goals for themselves.
    2. They work very hard.
    3. A number have failed or at least had to overcome tremendous barriers.  Michael Jordan, for example, did not make the varsity basketball team when he tried out as a sophomore in high school. Oprah was born to an unwed mother into a life of rural poverty. She ran away from home and got pregnant when she was 14. She had some obstacles to overcome!
    4. They have all persevered.

They are winners!!  Do you want to be a winner?

  1. How can you be a winner? You can do so by the choices you make. Make good choices!
    1. Choose to set high goals for yourselves.
    2. Choose to work very hard.
    3. Choose to not let any obstacle (temporary failures included) deter you.
    4. Choose to keep going until you succeed!

Making the right choices really speaks to one's attitude!
Consider the story of another Michael who was also a real winner (I took it from the Internet and the author was listed as unknown).

Making Choices
Author Unknown

Michael is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. When someone would ask him how he was doing, he would reply, "If I were any better, I would be twins!" He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Michael was there telling the employee how to look on the positive side of the situation. Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Michael and asked him, "I don't get it! You can't be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?"
Michael replied, "Each morning I wake up and say to myself, you have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood. I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.
"Yeah, right, it's not that easy," I protested. "Yes, it is," Michael said. "Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. You choose to be in a good mood or bad mood. The bottom line: It's your choice how you live life."
What this story shows is that attitude, after all, is everything.  To become a winner, therefore, you need to the right attitude!

Robert F. Bennett summed up the point nicely when he said, "Your life is the sum result of all the choices you make, both consciously and unconsciously. If you can control the process of choosing, you can take control of all aspects of your life. You can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of yourself."
How should you make your choices?  First, apply what I call Burnim's 3rd Law:  "Whenever possible, make choices that leave you more options rather than fewer." Consider the following four steps.

  1. Be clear about what choice is before you. (Define the problem.)  What will you do after high school?  If you are going to college, should you choose a community college or a four-year university? What will you choose as a major? If you are going into the armed services, which branch?
  2. Collect as much relevant information as is feasible. (Collect data.) For example, which colleges offer the kind of preparation that you seek? How much are tuition and fees? How much financial aid is available? Will the campus culture fit with your personality and preferences? Which branch of service will best prepare you for the kind of career that you want after your service ends? 
  3. Consider the consequences of your choices. If I choose to hang out with the wrong crowd, will I likely get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? If I drink and drive, might I cause an accident which could injure or kill someone? If I choose not to go to college, will I ever be able to enjoy a comfortable standard of living and provide for a family?

Make the decision most consistent with what you want to achieve long term. If you want to be a responsible, independent, and productive adult, then make choices that lead toward that goal. If you want to be a high school principal, then you need to go to college. If you want to be a marine biologist or a computer scientist, then you need to go to college. In fact, since we now live in the information age, practically any career path requires post high school education! Make choices which expand your options rather than limit them. Of course, as President of Bowie State University, I urge you to consider Bowie State University. It is a fine state university with lots of degree programs and affordable tuition and fees. But there are a lot of choices available to you. In this area alone, there are University of Maryland College Park, Montgomery College, The Universities at Shady Grove, and Prince George's Community College.  Choose the one that's right for you!

What I have shared with you is critically important for winning in the game of life. Winners are those who make good choices and maintain a good attitude, including the refusal to quit! How does one know what defines good choices? I seek the guidance of my maker and keeper-the God of our universe. I urge you to not neglect your spiritual development; that would be the best choice of all!

Thank you. I bid you Godspeed!

Mickey L. Burnim, PhD

June 8, 2007