Career Tech High School Class of 2016 Commencement Speech

As I promised, here is the text of my speech to the CTHS Class of 2016, as delivered on May 10, 2016:

Good Evening Honored Class of 2016, Parents, Family, Teachers, Administrators and Board Members.

In the space of little more than a month, through happenstance, I have experienced a most devastating event and a most gratifying event. I am grateful to be here to speak to you tonight; I feel a balance from being invited to speak to you.

Thanks to you, the members of the Class of 2016, I have the opportunity to address you one last time This is the most energizing and exciting opportunity that has come my way since I had most of you as Freshman.

Thank you.

Let me catch my breath a moment.

This evening, I want to talk to you about life and death.

Settle down. We aren’t going to visit dark places.

I am going to talk mostly about life because I have some authority on that subject.

First let’s do a quick review. I wrote the Class of 2015s speech last year with you in mind as my audience.

You weren’t here last year so I will do a quick review to bring you up to speed.

First, I regaled the Class of 2015 by suggesting that their parents buy them a Tempur Pedic Memory Foam mattress for their graduation present. There was a point to my request: I reasoned that if a person is going to spend the next third of his or her life in bed, parents might as well spring for a great bed in order that their dear children might spend that time enjoyably.

Second, I offered the advice to make a point of becoming a conscientious person. For those of you who don’t have a ready definition at hand, to be conscientious by my definition is to do what is expected of you:

You perform you duties promptly.

You embrace your responsibilities every time you are called upon to be responsible.

You are cheerful in executing your duties.

And you always complete your tasks without being asked a second time, or better yet without ever being asked.

What do you get out of this?

You will be a stand out parent.

You will be loved and cherished by your spouse.

Your employer and your customers will always look forward to engaging your company.

You will always feel good about yourself because dependable, loyal people always feel good about their service to others.

My last directive to the Class of 2015, and now to you is:

Every day, every hour of every day, ask yourself the Laken question:

“Is this the best use of my time now?”

If the answer is “no,” you’ll know what you need to do.

If the answer is “yes,” you probably won’t be asking the question.

The best use of your time is different for you than it is for me, and anyone else. But you and I will spend a large part of our lives doing the exactly the same activity if you listen to me carefully for the next five minutes.

I want to teach you something I have always known, but something that has just re-entered my life in the last four months.

I want to teach you to live and to know you are alive while you are living.

How will I teach you to be aware of living in five minutes?

Let me show you.

Stand up.

Follow my instructions:

Breathe in deeply.

Hold that breath for two or three seconds.

Now breath out slowly, twice as long as it took to breath in and this is the most important part:


Okay. Once again for the slow guys:

Breathe in deeply.

Hold that breath for two or three seconds.

Now breath out slowly, twice as long as it took to breath in, and this is the most important part:


And again:

Breathe in deeply.

Hold that breath for two or three seconds.

Now breath out slowly, twice as long as it took to breath in, and this is the most important part:


Breathing is life. Intentional breathing is living and paying attention to your life as you live it.

You know you are alive when you are breathing.

You appreciate your life as you live it when you breathe intentionally as we all just experienced.

Breathing is the miracle of life.

We all come into our lives on an in breath.

We leave our lives on an out breath.

In the meantime, we never stop breathing, we just stop paying attention to the beauty of our breathing until now.

Breathing intentionally will inform your life about everything you need to know and do with this gift of breath.

Our breath is central to our lives:

We hold our breath when we are excited and joyous.

We laugh. And laughing is the most joyous form of breathing.

To cry is to breathe: crying is breathing to help us catch up with our overwhelming emotions. It is done in the presence of god if you think about the tears and the symbolism of water being the presence of God.

We breathe harder when we live harder. Running. Skiing. Basketball. Baseball are all breathing sports.

When we play sports like baseball, we breath!

Watch me: Pitch. Bat. Catch. (I act this out.)

We hold our breath when we think we are about to die.

Maybe we do that to keep from dying. Who knows?

Now I will make my point.

I know of a man, Thich Nhat Hahn who breathes intentionally and smiles with every breathe all day every day and he has been doing this for the better part of his ninety-three years. I think he must cheat a little by smiling continuously during his waking hours and in his sleep. He does smile and he does emphasize every breath he takes.

I want you to take sometime to breathe intentionally every day. It should become a livelong habit to breath intentionally. We may not become Thich Nhat Hahn, but we will all be better for breathing intentionally.

Ten minutes every morning would a good start for you.

I wake up every morning and breathe intentionally for sixty minutes. I roll out of bed. I touch the timer on my I Phone, and assume the down dog position and start breathing intentionally.

I don’t stay in down dog for an hour in case you are wondering. It is fast way to wake up.

Sixty minutes is a really, really long time to dedicate to breathing. However, the upside is that every hour of the rest of my day is shaped by that first hour.

Every minute of intentional breathing reminds me that I am alive and that I am enjoying my life.

Ask yourselves if you have ever seen me not vibrating with excitement and exuberance in the last four months.

Let me shift gears here for a moment.

Addicts have negative triggers in their lives: a Bic lighter, the television remote, the VISA card, you know your negative triggers. They live lives of negativity and aimlessness; they are hungry ghosts in search of more of something to fulfill their lives and they never find that something.

We will not become hungry ghosts; we will breath our way though a full and rich life regardless of what comes our way because we are intimately in touch with life itself through our breathing.

Let me show you my positive triggers.

I use my I Phone in the morning to trigger my intentional breathing.

I use the key fob to my Volvo to remind me to breathe intentionally while driving all the way to Anchorage, or to Carrs, if that is all the further I am driving.

When I feel fear, or anger, or sadness, I stop, I focus, and I breathe intentionally.

It’s kind of like that “count to ten before you explode,” but better because it works and it lasts longer.

Okay. Let me catch my breath.

I want to tell you two stories before I close.

I learned that life was breath from my chocolate Lab, Duke. Duke lived ten great years by my side. I biked with him, sailed with him, and read the Bible out loud to him. Twice. He loved it. The day that my wife Eva and I put Duke “to sleep” as the euphemism goes, we took him into the exam room, watched as the vet gave him a sedative to calm him, and then we petted his chest as he breathed in and out and in and out and then stopped.

My moment of awareness was realizing that when he stopped breathing, his life was gone. Forever. It could never be started again because he was dead. He had stopped breathing. He had stopped living. That was the moment that I knew the secret to life:

Life is breath.

My second breathing story is about my daughter and my wife. My wife had lost consciousness about ten days before she stopped breathing. My daughter, Sam, spent every minute of every day with her mother almost until her last breath. About five days into unconsciousness, Eva was breathing so slowly, about four breaths a minute, that Sam had to crawl across the bed, put her face close to her mother’s face and listen to see if she was still breathing. As Sam was leaning into her mother’s face, Eva said, BOO!” Sam jumped back, scared breathless and listened as her mother said, “Just messing with you.”

Her last words.


My last words to you:

I will always think of my wife, Eva, my daughter, Samantha, my dogs, too numerous to mention, and you, the Class of 2016, every morning as I practice intentional breathing






Good night! Good luck! Thank you for this experience!


Here is the video of the Career Tech High School Class of 2016 Graduation.

My speech is introduced at 58:44. Maximize the screen and turn up the sound


Christopher Drick (a former student) suggested I and this video to this blog:





13 thoughts on “Career Tech High School Class of 2016 Commencement Speech

  1. Melanie True

    Oh Jeff-
    What a great speech. This 65 yr old student loved it, I’m sure the class did as well as their parents. You gave them a great send off and message to help them the rest of their lives. Did you get great applause – or will it take awhile to resonate with them? I need to figure out a way to copy this- there’s a few people I’d like to read it. To steal Sam’s Mother Day’s words, “Eva would be proud of you”!


    1. Melanie, Thank you for the kind words! Yes I did get a great round of applause! Not quite a standing ovation, but the applause was loud and energetic! I think lots of the students got my message because they have literally been trained to listen to me. I am pretty confident that is why they chose me as their speaker: they appreciate what I have taught them, and they wanted one more lesson to go out on. I gave it to them! The speech composition really felt good. The speech delivery felt even better. The speech acceptance was outstandingly warm and sincere.

      I will e-mail you a copy of the text of the speech and you can make as many copies as you wish. Happy Wednesday! Remember: breathe in, hold for the cells to settle, breathe out twice as long and smile. You have the instruction manual written by Thich Nhat Hahn. We can thank Jane Baskett for introducing me to that book!


  2. Matt Kerr

    Very nice, Jeff. After suffering a major asthma attack, one time, I sure can appreciate that breath is life. That adrenaline shot they gave me sure felt like a lifesaver! Turned out I was deathly allergic to a short haired kitten we’d recently been given. It had to become an outdoor cat from then on, but for about the next 20 years, I had to take a couple tokes on the Albuterol inhaler a couple times a day. Once Karen divorced me and I got completely away from her short haired Siamese cat, I was finally able to quit the inhalers, cold turkey. Turns out I was allergic to dog and horse dander as well as dust mites. Unfortunately, 6 feral kittens were abandoned by the mama cat, in our yard, in Woodinville and I felt sorry for them and started to feed them. Then Mariana got really attached to the 3 that were getting sort of tame, but they remained outdoor kitties, at least until coyotes got our favorite orange & white one. Then we had to start letting the other 2 sort of tame ones into the garage at night, for their own protection, and from there, they eventually got down stairs rec-room privileges, since Mariana didn’t like having to sit in the cold garage to play with them. They still went outdoors every day though, at least until we moved to Marysville. We knew we’d probably lose them if we let them out in that unfamiliar territory, so they’ve been indoor kitties ever since. That’s been a year now, but fortunately our house is set up with sort of a MIL downstairs, where they stay, at least, most of the time (they’re never allowed in our bedrooms of office), they’re both long haired cats, and since they’re still feral at heart, they’re not lap cats and don’t like to be picked up. Therefore, Mariana doesn’t get cat hair all over herself when she goes down there to play with them, so, fortunately, they haven’t been a problem for me. By the way, I named our big, solid brown one, Bear, after your old chocolate lab. Even though she won’t get in her lap, she often likes to follow Mariana around, kind of like a puppy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You guys sound like committed cat folks; I get that: I am a committed Lab person! I spend all of my time with my dogs at my feet, or walking/running them every day. I have just started leaving them at home when I run errands; this is the time of year when folks leave their cars running beside my car to keep the air conditioner running. I just know somebody is going to drive up, leave their car running and asphyxiate my dogs. Thus, no dogs in the XC 90 for trips to the store.


  3. Paul Humberson

    Jeff, you are man with rare insight and courage.

    Insight because this is positively brilliant ! Courage because you have achieved some balance so soon after Eva died. To so soon be able to use her as part of a spoken teaching example, I could not have done that.

    This gives any listener/reader great insight and guidance. 60 minutes is an impressive time for conscious, focused breathing. While I do this daily, I necessarily have shorter periods, as I have “miles to go before I sleep”.

    Nicely done !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeff you are a gifted and inspirational wordsmith. Thank you for sharing your reminders to breath with me. I look forward to your teaching me to find that breath in the wicked cold of the outdoors when we return to AK.

    Chris, Thank you for encouraging Jeff to post the video. It was so nice to see my CTHS family again.


  5. Eric Dichsen

    Jeff, you continue to inspire me. Some of my fondest memories from those years in Alaska include you and the conversations that we shared while snowshoeing. My career has provided the privilege of witnessing many first and last breaths, and I completely agree with your insights. You have challenged me to be more intentional in my breathing, and I look forward to exercising this discipline. Thank you!


  6. Mary

    You are truly inspiring. Great speech. I will start paying attention to my breathing and to my life. I am renewed. Thank you.


  7. ArrianaDoty

    You are a beautiful writer. As I read this aloud to my son, my dog, and my fiance- my fiance being the only other one in the room to understand it- We both started to reach a moment of clarity. Again, thank you.


    1. Thank you, Arriana for those kind words! I just finished reading Susan Piver’s book “Start Here Now” today. It is a manual for learning to meditate. The upshot of the book? Focus on your breathing and allow your thoughts to come and go as they will, and just always return your focus to your breath. You can see her simple instruction video on YouTube. Here is the URL if you are interested: Happy breathing, Arriana!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s