Fellow students, today is the day we are delivered into the “real world,” or so it is called. We have heard the phrase a thousand times from adults around us, all starting with “In the real world…” Today, I stand before you to tell you that we have been lied to, though not maliciously. Out of ignorance, and some arrogance, those who told us that things are different in the real world made a colossal error. Every parent, teacher, principal, and counselor made the grand assumption that each of us is safe in a protective bubble known as “home.” Home, they assume, has guarded us thus far from many of the evils found in the adult world. At some level, this is very true. We were shielded from many of the responsibilities required of free adults. We never had to struggle to put food on the table or a roof over our own heads. Some of us who chose the path of the criminal have the opportunity to start fresh, without having to pay the tab in our adult life for our childish mistakes. There is some protection, but not protection to the degree painted by so many adults.
Some of us come from homes that deal with alcoholism or drugs. Others deal with various forms of abuse. Still others struggle with parents who are mentally ill or are not present at all. For them, home is not a protective bubble, but a glass prison, allowing a clear view of everyone else’s wonderful life, but steel-like in its enclosure. Its transparency allows only a glimpse, but never an escape, no matter what is thrown at it. For some of us, home is the real world. So, it seems offensive and a bit naïve to hear someone say that “you have it so easy, but it’s different in the real world.”
It is for this reason, I tell you that you are in the real world, not just as of this moment, but from the day you were born. As a newborn babe, you were born in a real world with real joys, real cares, real tragedies, and real fears. Shielded or not, everything you experienced was real and shaped who you are today. Every choice you made defined how you are now and who you may become. There is no dividing line between childhood and adulthood other than who is responsible for you in the eyes of the law. In truth, you are responsible for yourself. You always have been. So, to say that today marks the first day of the rest of your life is a sick, old cliché that should be buried deep, right beside the concept of the “real world”. You must realize that every moment of every day from birth until the light fades from your eyes defines you. Because of this truth, I do not welcome you to the real world; I welcome you to the revelation of where you have always been.
Therefore, I congratulate you. You have arrived, though some of you are not sure where you are. You, my friends and colleagues, are at a moment of destiny. I say this, not with pomp, not with an effort to superficially generate shock and awe. I state this as a fact, for today you have a myriad of paths available to you. The path you chose today will define your destiny. Our battle cry, “Ride On Honorable Ones”, is one I hope will define all of us, but I know some will fall short. Not all of us will be honorable. Some will choose to stay in the bubble of home forever, never allowing ourselves the chance to become freethinking adults. Some of us will fall to the sins of our fathers. Others will feel that life is too hard and will rush to the bottle, the drug, or to suicide. Not all of us will ride on.
Still, each of us has an opportunity to walk with honor. The path of honor is a path that is not comfortable, not filled with ease, and may seem more difficult than a less honorable path. Yet, the price paid for walking with honor always returns much more than what was stolen away. For all the sneers and jeers an honorable life receives, one thing it never receives is regret. That is why I ask of you, beg of you, to follow me.As imperfect, flawed, and broken as I am, with all the scars of foolishness and hypocrisy I bear, I call upon you to follow me.
As I walk out these doors, I will not shuffle out as a timid, little boy, terrified of his own shadow. I will not walk as one who throws caution to the wind, blindly falling into harm’s way. I will walk as a confident man, assured of who I am and where I am going. I will walk guided by truth, honor, and respect for others around me. I will defer my own desires to fulfill the needs of others. I will heal those who are wounded. I will defend those who are defenseless. I lead the way to safety where the is no clearly defined path. I will not wait for others to make change happen. Rather, I will become the change I wish to see. For all of you seated here today, all of you who hear the sound of my voice, follow me. This is the hour. This is the moment. The future is now and we are its creators. Join me and find honor’s true reward.