Office of the Governor Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry's Remarks At the Episcopal School of Dallas Commencement Ceremony

*Note - Gov. Perry frequently departs from prepared remarks.
Thursday, May 27, 2004  •  Speech

Thank you Cait.  Today I’m proud to be here, not as the governor, but just as Uncle Rick.  Dean of the Upper School Eddie Eason, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors Jamie Clement, Headmaster Swann, Reverend Strickland, members of the faculty of the Episcopal School of Dallas I applaud you for your dedication to these students, and the difference you have made in their lives.

Members of the Episcopal Class of 2004: many of you have anticipated this day for a number of years.  Others, well, we’re just surprised you made it.  But congratulations, this marks a high moment of achievement in your lives.

I must recognize one other special group.  Over the years they have taken you to soccer games, baseball games, piano practice and thousands of other pursuits.  They have helped you with your homework and many have been actively involved in school activities.  And they have done it all because they love you fully and unconditionally.  Will you join me in applauding your parents, grandparents and every relative who is so proud of you on this day?  Mom and dad, after 18 years of sacrifice, the moment has arrived: It is time for them to move out of the house!

Though it happened in a previous century, I still have vivid memories of my own graduation.  In fact, I could probably tell you the names of each one of my classmates from the Paint Creek School, all 12 of them.  I can also tell you I don’t remember a single thing that was said by the commencement speaker.  So I will be brief and cut to the chase.  I came here today with some important advice and important observations.  If you remember these five things, you will be okay.

First, and most important: LISTEN TO YOUR ELDERS!  Second, the oil light on your car is not for decoration.  It doesn’t offer suggestions, it issues ultimatums.  Third, never ask a barber if you need a haircut and never trust a skinny cook!  Fourth, that string that rolls out of that small container is called dental floss.  It goes between your teeth.  And fifth, no matter how hard you look you will find no question marks among the Ten Commandments.

On this special day, you are afforded the opportunity to reflect on the friendships you have made, the lessons you have learned, and the memories you will cherish.  And today you open that chapter titled, “the rest of your life.”  A famous baseball player by the name of Satchell Paige liked to say, “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.”  When you consider the fact that Satchell Paige was deprived of playing major league baseball during his prime years because of the color of his skin, those words are especially meaningful.  He had good reason to protest the events of the past, but he also knew he couldn’t do anything about it.  So he decided to think about the future instead.

Each of you will cross this stage having taken your own unique path to this moment.  What’s important is that you made it.  And because of the high school diploma you will receive today, the pathway to the future is lined with opportunity, especially if you take the next important step, which is to earn a college degree.  Consider the following fact: according to Census data, the lifetime earnings for a household with no more than a high school degree are $1.5 million less than a household with a bachelor’s degree.  We live in the land of opportunity, a nation where the children of migrant farm workers can dream of one day owning the farm.  That’s because it is possible. 

Americans are not limited by the arbitrary barriers of class.  We are not limited by the education of our parents.  If the son of two tenant farmers with no college education can become governor, then what is to stop any of you from realizing your dreams if you continue your education?  There are close to 100 unique dreams waiting to be fulfilled by the graduates in this room.  And judging by the success many of you have had so far, it appears you understand the key variable in the formula for success, hard work.

I am told that one out of six graduates in this room has been recognized by the college board for academic excellence, and 55 percent of this class has received academic awards totaling nearly $3.5 million.  One student scored a 1600 on the SAT, and one was named an All-American athlete.  Three students have received appointments to a service academy, and ten of you plan to play Division One Sports.  All three school publications have been recognized for their excellence, and five art and photography students have had their outstanding work on display.  What a tremendous testament to the well-rounded education you have received at the Episcopal School of Dallas, a school that has given you a leg up in a competitive world, and will serve as a springboard to the opportunities of the future, and your dreams.

As you embark on the pursuit of those dreams, I want to offer just a couple of brief thoughts on the journey that awaits you.  First, don’t lose perspective.  A sense of humor and a sense of humility can take you a long way, and they can shield you from the pitfall known as self-importance.  The First Lady is fond of telling me what a dreadful world this would be if I were right all the time.  In fact, I keep with me the words from the May 6th edition of the Murphy’s Law Calendar.  It reads: “if a husband speaks deep in the forest, and his wife isn’t there to hear him, is he still wrong?”  The first sign of a big fall is when we become surrounded by people who are afraid to tell us when we are wrong.  Those people who keep us grounded perform an invaluable function.

Keeping perspective also means focusing our energies on what truly matters.  The biggest house on the block, a sports car, a large bank account, they are poor substitutes for love, decency and fulfillment.  Material prosperity is fine, but prosperity in the absence of virtue is emptiness.  America is the most blessed nation on the face of the earth, not because we have accumulated much, but because we have given so much.  Our blessings are not intended for safe keeping.  They are meant to be shared with others.  Your legacy as you pass from this life will not be defined by the wealth you cannot take with you, but by the impact you have on those you leave behind.  There is virtue and fulfillment that can be found in loving a child or a parent, or providing a hand to a neighbor in need, that can never be replaced by the accumulation of things.

Generations of Americans have made great sacrifices for causes greater than self.  This country has sent its sons and daughters half-way around the world to promote the values of democracy and to defend the inalienable right of every human being to live as God intended, in freedom.  That remains our mission today, no matter how difficult the task, or how enormous the sacrifice.

The evening news often leads with a casualty count, or the latest story about a few bad actors in our military, but we must never forget what often goes unsaid:  and that is our nation is so blessed to have young men and women who, when called upon, answer with the words from the Book of Isaiah  “Here am I.  Send me.”

You too have an important calling.  It may be in the military.  It may be in a classroom, courtroom or clinic; it may be in a thousand other settings.  But no matter what your calling in life may be, the ones truly worth pursuing all have a common thread: service to others.

And don’t think there is a certain age you must reach before your voice can be heard or your contributions valued.  Alexander the Great was 16 when he first showed his great military prowess.  Joan of Arc was 19 when she was martyred for her courage.  William “Buck” Travis was a mere 26 when he commanded that band of Texas soldiers who died defending the Alamo.  There is nothing more refreshing than youthful idealism.  As the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “do not be ashamed of your youth.”  A related piece of advice is this, while one person can make a profound difference, keep in mind that the world is a pretty big place, and that there are forces at work outside of your control.  The words of the Serenity Prayer help us to realize the proper balance:  “GOD, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Perhaps it’s easier said than done, each one of us will live the rest of our lives seeking greater wisdom.  We are all mortal.  True and complete wisdom comes from above.  Sometimes, only in the darkest moments do we think about turning to God.  But God doesn’t just deliver in times of peril.  While human beings may let us down from time to time, God is always faithful, and His love unconditional.

Finally, keep close to your hearts the words of the great Texan Sam Houston, who said, “do right, and risk consequences.”  You can never trade your integrity for something better.  Sometimes the knowledge of a good act is reserved only for the doer of the deed and God in Heaven.  So be it.  The test of character is not whether you do right in the eyes of others, but if you do right when no one will ever know.

With all the negative news we get bombarded with today, it was good to hear a story recently that exemplified that kind of character.

The other day Cincinati Reds pitcher Danny Graves received in the mail the last thing he ever expected to get back: the wallet he lost.  It contained his credit cards, his driver’s license, his team ID, and the $1,400 he never thought he would see again.  But even more amazing, the individual who found it had taken the trouble to convert the cash into traveler’s checks so it wouldn’t get stolen in the mail.  The only thing missing was $26…the cost of overnighting the wallet. 

The man who found it was cleaning the Reds’ team bus in San Diego.  If you think about it, there’s a good chance that man could have used the money.  And there’s a good chance, if he had kept the money, no one would have ever known.  But that man has some thing worth much more than $1,400…he has character. 

Sometimes doing what’s right means avoiding the temptation to doing what’s expedient.  And sometimes, doing what’s right is not the same as doing what’s popular.  If Moses had taken a popular opinion poll, the Israelites may have never made it out of Egypt.  Listen to constructive criticism, but ignore the cynics who would rather impugn your motives than argue the merits of a decision.  Why spend your time being torn down when this life gives you a unique opportunity to lift others up?  As our former President, Teddy Roosevelt, once said “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Thank you for allowing me to share in this day – your day.  You should be extremely proud of what you have accomplished graduating from a prestigious school like the Episcopal School of Dallas.  Today is just the first day on a long road – a road you will map out according to your life’s goals. 

May God bless you every step of the way, and may you each live lives that leave a lasting imprint on this Texas we love.

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