The Essence of Philipsburg: A Commencement Address.

Posted on May 27, 2013


GHS Graduations 2013

I was asked to speak at the Granite High School commencement ceremony–my old fifth grade class. This is my speech from that night….

These kinds of things, speaking a commencement ceremony, should really be reserved for some kind of famous person, or someone super rich with some kind of prophetic life lessons and secrets to spew… I don’t want to be famous, and I don’t think that I’ll ever be rich, so it’s crazy that I’m here. It’s pretty amazing to even be considered someone worthy to come and talk. So often we get bogged down in the day-to-day monotony of working life and you simply forget about the real reason you work so hard. It’s truly my honor to know that all of the hours and efforts I’ve put forth, actually matter to someone, in some little way. I am really humbled and thankful to be here on such an amazing milestone in the lives of some pretty amazing young people.

So, I started to wonder if I had anything of value to say tonight. I wrote like 4 different speeches-threw them all away- they all seemed canned, or cliche, or some kind of copy and paste garbage from the internet. Then I looked at myself, to see what  if there was anything I’ve gone through in my life and learned in my life that might actually serve of you well.

The thing is, I started to write this speech and I realized the words were really no different than what we talked when I was your 5th grade teacher. The language and the packaging of the message is a little bit different now, but at its very core-it’s nothing you haven’t heard before.  I just hope, on your graduation day, that you’ll hear it a little differently now.

I am fortunate to have a fairly unique perspective. I was born and raised in a town called Manitowoc, just outside Green Bay Wisconsin, and I live in Butte now. Both of those places are quite special to me (regardless of what you might think about Butte)…. But neither of those two places quite feel like Philipsburg. Tonight, I want to talk a little bit about what I mean by that.

When I got here in 2004, I was young, from a place far away–a different culture–and quite frankly, I didn’t know anything. PBurg, for all that I knew about this place, might as well have been on the moon. It required quite a leap of faith for me to come here. And I know it required a similarly large leap of faith to have me here.

One of the toughest decisions I’ve made in my life, was to leave. When I came to terms with that, I realized I left as an entirely different person.

My students know that if I had teach the revolutionary war right now, we’d still play a game of football. We’d still blow off a lesson or two of long division to sing songs and played guitar instead. We’d have Nali hang out with us from time to time and you know I’d teach in my ski pants every Friday when the snow is good, so I run up to Discovery and get some turns in. I’ll always be that guy…

What I mean, is that there’s just something about this place that makes me feel like I grew up here. Not in terms of age or anything like that, because I only spent about 4 years here. In that time, I learned who I was. Never in a million years would I have ever thought I’d say that about Philipsburg Montana. The crux of it, is how that happened here.IMG_3324

There’s a reason I was drawn here in the first place-being ridiculously beautiful doesn’t hurt, but that’s not it– and there’s a reason, time-and-time again, I keep coming back. PBurg is what it is because of everyone here, and we all are who we are because of the values this place instills in us. I’ve been all over the world, but, to this day, there’s something here that simply feels like home.

There’s a reason the Today show came here, there’s a reason that movies are filmed here. There’s a reason thousands of people circle a tiny dot, on a big map, in a huge state, and they choose to make it a destination. The best way I can describe it, there’s an Essence of Philipsburg. That essence, makes this place and all of its people, different than everywhere else.

That certainly includes you graduates. You’ve had the incredible opportunity to be raised here, that people growing up in other places I’ve experienced, just don’t have. Much of that, I feel, is being a part of the truest sense of community-not brick and mortar or paint and concrete- but it’s a sense of togetherness, accountability to your neighbor, support you give others, and the support you know you will have if you ever need it…

Given so many of the recent tragic events happening in our world—It’s no secret that we live in a terribly difficult, confusing , demanding, and often contradictory world—but If more places and more people made the decision to carry around this Essence of PBurg, we just might see less heartbreak and tragedy that’s going on.

This last week I began a new job as the Executive Director of an incredible organization called Mariah’s Challenge. It’s a scholarship program that fights the dangers of drinking and driving and underage drinking. I spoke, last week, at our scholarship banquet about the value of community and how that community can make our entire world better. That sense of community is just not as present elsewhere as it is right here in Philipsburg.

For many, this attitude or essence requires a deliberate choice in that direction. Many situations I’m sure you’ve already experienced, require a deliberate choice. Many attitudes you experience, both good and bad-justified or not,  are a result of this choice. For some it’s no more difficult than watching a Pburg sunset. But know… the choice is yours.

Graduates– I’m sure some of you can’t wait for me to stop talking—like 5 minutes ago– so that you can literally skip town that much sooner-that’s cool, I get that. I’m also sure there are some of you that are completely content here and don’t feel a pull to leave-that’s cool, too… I get that.

The only thing that I want you to consider as you move forward, whether you only travel 2 miles from this gym or you go 20,000 miles from this gym, is to take PBurg out into the world. Realize that you are some of the luckiest people in the world and realize that you have the power to make your world awesome. Just as I have been, you’ve been molded by the capable hands of this place, your parents, this school, and this community. What you’ve learned here will apply universally, here and around the world, and I can say from experience that it won’t let you down.

Some of the greatest lessons I  carry with me, came in the farthest corners of the world. I’m reminded of a tiny Hmong girl named Lee, who guided Cass and I on a trek through some remote villages in Vietnam. She farmed her own rice so she could eat, she made the clothes she wore everyday… In terms of our society, she had nothing… but was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.

Similarly, some of the greatest lessons I carry with me have also come from right here- on this court, my classroom, and the football field. How to carry yourself in winning, how to carry on through losing, and how to learn from your mistakes is terribly valuable.

Some of my best friends live in Africa and in many regards, they couldn’t be more different than me. But they’ve shown me how to be unconditional.

Similarly, Some of my best friends live here in Philipsburg and in many regards, also, couldn’t be more different than me. I will always see them as role models…  and people that have helped me become who I am.

Granite High School Commencement speechWhat’s important, is that where ever you go, whoever you meet, and what ever you do,  is to be open to the possibility of new places, be open to people that are amazingly different than you, and be open to experiences you never thought in your wildest dreams you would ever have.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I came here… Many of you graduates probably have  no idea what is waiting for you, either. I want  you seek out opportunities to explore the unknown– to take that very same leap of faith that I took to come here. It doesn’t matter whether that happens in Seoul, South Korea, or in Cape Town, South Africa, or if it happens in Philipsburg, Montana… Choosing to carry that Essence, and choosing to be open to life, might just be the greatest thing that could ever happen to you.

Be sure to keep being great—the world needs your unique brand of awesomeness… now, more than ever.

This probably did  sound a little different than 5th grade, eh? You’re all a little taller now, and I’ve got a couple grays poking through my beard– But you guys get it.

So I want to thank everyone for allowing me to come and chat with you for a little while, Congratulations to the Granite High School graduating class of 2013, and thank you for letting me have one last 5th grade lesson.

Go Prospectors.

Posted in: Think, Travel