Recently I was honored to be asked to deliver the keynote address at the Learn More Center commencement in Wabash, Indiana. Having taught there in the past, I was delighted to speak. These students are some of the hardest working I have ever seen.
In case you weren’t able to attend, below are my remarks.
One day in late summer, an old farmer was working in his field with his old sick horse. The farmer felt compassion for the horse and desired to lift its burden. So he left his horse loose to go to the mountains and live out the rest of its life.
Soon after, neighbors from the nearby village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. How unfortunate you are! You must be very sad. How will you live, work the land, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see.”
I am so honored to be here this afternoon and to share this precious life event with you. Because I was once an instructor here, I feel like I already know your life stories and the struggles that brought you here. I know how hard you’ve worked to accomplish what you have.
I’m not sure if the Learn More Center intake process is the same as what it was when I was here. When I taught here, new students had to write down their goal and the possible obstacles to achieving them.
Then they had to list what they would do if those obstacles came up.
What if your car breaks down?
What if transit is two hours late?
What if your child is too sick to go to school? How will you make it to class?
You literally took pen and paper and wrote ways to make your life right by creating a plan. Now that’s some power!
You already told yourselves you could do it or you wouldn’t be here today. You already decided that there is nothing that has happened to you, good or bad, that you can’t overcome.
Doubters might look at your past situation and judge you based on what you did or didn’t do then: “Oh, you didn’t finish school. You must not have cared about your education.” Just like in the story of the wise man and his son, others decided they could interpret what your life would be based on what they thought they knew of your circumstances.
You knew better. You said, “We shall see.” You came here. You worked hard. You sacrificed your time and energy. You gave up time with family. TV time. You stayed up all night after work studying. Some of you spent gas money you didn’t have and went hungry to get here.
That doesn’t sound to me like someone who doesn’t care about an education. And it doesn’t to you, either, or you wouldn’t be here. You knew the truth of the matter. You didn’t let others decide your story.
Two days later the old horse came back now rejuvenated after meandering in the mountainsides while eating the wild grasses. He came back with twelve new younger and healthy horses which followed the old horse into the corral.
Word got out in the village of the old farmer’s good fortune and it wasn’t long before people stopped by to congratulate the farmer on his good luck. “How fortunate you are!” they exclaimed. “You must be very happy!” Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”
But aren’t you too old to be at LMC?, those voices of doubt might say, it’s too late for a high school education, and vocational training, isn’t that for younger people? Why try?
Whether it was others’ voices or your own, you ignored your fears. You said, “We shall see.” And you found your way here. You proved that you’re never too old, never too ‘behind,’ never too whatever they said to discourage you.
You are a visionary. You have authored a new story. And you’re on the way to making things that went wrong, right.
“We shall see.” Now in the story, the wise man means that as we don’t know. We can’t always know what it means when something happens. But I have a feeling you all meant that “We shall see” with a little more attitude, a little more swagger: “We shall see,” in your terms might be, “I’ll show them.” And today, you have.
At daybreak on the next morning, the farmer’s only son set off to attempt to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. One by one villagers arrived during the day to bemoan the farmer’s latest misfortune. “Oh, what a tragedy! Your son won’t be able to help you farm with a broken leg. You’ll have to do all the work yourself, How will you survive? You must be very sad,” they said. Calmly going about his usual business the farmer answered, “Who knows? We shall see.”
Think of every blessed class you sat through, every TABE test, every Pick Your Poison worksheet (do you still do those?), every essay you had to write – and you persevered.
You said, “we shall see what I can do.”
Some of you have been studying for years, not giving up even when no one would have faulted you for it. Your home life might have been chaotic. Your relationships challenging. You’ve gotten discouraged at times and wanted to quit. You didn’t.
Every time you got up when the alarm went off even though you had been up late with a sick family member and came to school anyway, every time you packed lunches for your kids but didn’t have food to pack for yourself but were determined to go to class anyway, every time you wanted to cry because you just could not figure out why you needed to understand math word problems because who would ever need to cut a cracker into 7/8ths, you said, “I’ll show them.”
Several days later a war broke out. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army. As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg. “What very good fortune you have!!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You must be very happy.” “Who knows? We shall see,” replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
Sure, you could have read your circumstances to mean just what those others did: that you’re not smart enough, young enough, thin enough, rich enough, whatever enough to succeed. You could have given up. But you didn’t.
You could have assumed that how things look was the only way they could be interpreted, but instead you wrote yourself a new story, started a new chapter. You decided that what things seemed to be didn’t have to be what they were. That facts are only data, not foregone conclusions or the inevitable way things have to turn out.
From here, after today, the possibilities are endless. You’ve written your own story by making the necessary changes in your life to get here. You’ve proven you’ve got what it takes. Now all you need to do is sit down sometime after you’ve taken the time to pause and appreciate your efforts. Celebrate today because you’ve earned it.
Those of you who are being inducted into Honor Society, we salute you. Pay attention to these who are graduating and what they’ve done to succeed too. Model their behavior. When you want to give up, remember that they didn’t.
Graduates, I applaud you. As I said, I know some of your stories well. I actually worked with some of you, and I’ll never forget your courage and tenacity. You taught me how to teach you, and I thank you for that.
As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you.” But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”
The teacher still in me won’t let you go without saying this, graduates and students: after you’ve had cake until it comes out of your ears, after you’ve hugged everyone you love and have enjoyed this day you might have thought would never come, consider sitting down with either the Learn More Center staff (and we know they’ll be asking you to do this if they haven’t already) or by yourself. Literally get out pen and paper, or a laptop, and write out where you want to be in five years, in one year, even. Work backwards and ask yourself what’s the first step you need to take to get there, and then the next and the next. Plot your future.
I doubt I have to tell you that, because it’s likely your vision doesn’t stop here with this already remarkable achievement. Today is the path to that career you have in mind, or a job you’ve been promised if only you get your HSE. You might have promised a relative you’d do this, but now that you have, you’re ready to do something just for you.
With all your gumption, though, and I know you have plenty of it, sometimes you need help. If you don’t know how to find the resources to achieve your dreams, ask. Someone somewhere is doing what you want to be doing. Someone knows how to achieve the success you want.
As it turned out the other young village boys had died in the war and the old farmer and his son were the only able-bodied men capable of working the village lands. The old farmer became wealthy and was very generous to the villagers. They said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy,” to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!”
Today is a milestone. Tomorrow is another. What will the future hold for you? You’re the teachers. You’re the ones showing us what is possible through seemingly impossible odds.
Show us, graduates, and as you intended us to, we shall see.
Note: the version of Farmers Son is borrowed from the http://rainbowbody.com/newarticles/farmerson.htm.