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:

Smile.

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:

Smile.

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:

Smile.

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

Until

My

Last

Living

Breath!

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

http://thecube.com/event/career-tech-high-school-commencement-ceremony-643038

 

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

 

 

 

 

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“I’m So Excited,” or How Jack Met His First Porcupine

Team Labfam just jogged in from a seven-mile run! An hour and a half ago, Jack, Kenai, and I took off for a Wasilla, Alaska, run down Church Road, to Clapp Road, to Knik Road, and back home to the projects in Mission Hills. I started the run with The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited blaring in my ears.  That song is just the right BPMs, about 92, for a quick run.

Church Road makes a nice running path on a bike path with a few hills thrown in to keep it interesting. As we passed the three-mile post, Jack (not Daniels, the dog) took off for something he discerned a thousand feet ahead of us. I couldn’t see what he was interested in; I thought he was just chasing a car that had slowed down momentarily. Actually, what he detected on our side of the road was a world-class size porcupine. We grow them extra big up here in Alaska: the really big ones look like Rottweilers with their legs cropped to six inches. Jack had the proper amount of “savoir fear” to keep him out of quill range and away from a $1,000.00 vet bill. I called him when I realized the hazard. He turned tail (beat the porcupine on that one) and struck a track back to us.

Had Jack made the wrong decision, the song, I’m So Excited would have been background music to another type of run. As it was, we continued while I replayed in my mind my other encounters with Mr. Porcupine.

I have had three porcupine encounters within the last forty years. The most recent skirmish was just about this time of the year. For some reason porcupines like swampy wetlands. Spring is when they come down from the trees to do whatever porcupines do in the Spring; I’m thinking breeding. On the other hand, the Home Show might have been an attraction. My good friend, Ron Jones and I were just completing a late evening (9:00 pm) walk we dubbed “The Long Trail.” Moose, my favorite black Lab of all time, decided to hang back from us and explore a small glade. After a brief space of time, a couple of minutes, he still hadn’t caught up to us. I called, and called him by name. No response. I yelled uncomplimentary things about his mother and their relationship. No response. Finally, Ron and I backtracked about a quarter of a mile to encounter Moose on the trail huffing, and chuffing, and pawing both sides of his face. I had seen this behavior enough times to know what had happened even though it was completely dark. I picked up one hundred pounds of wild dog and relayed him a mile to the Duramax truck. He was foaming and bleeding from the mouth; he was just wild with pain and shock. This event was recent enough that there was such a thing as an I-Phone. I dialed the animal hospital emergency room. The vet’s first concern was not with the dog; he wanted me to agree to provide him with a $1,000.00 charge on my VISA before treating the dog. I said, “fair enough,” and the race was on to the hospital. Ron drove, and I fought Moose all the way to the hospital to keep him from clamping down on the fifty, or hundred, or so quills in his mouth. The quills covered his chest, his forelegs, and bristled from his ears and around his eyes.

At three o’clock in the morning, I got a call to come pick Moose up; they couldn’t stand listening to him scream at the top of his lungs . He was feeling no pain; he  missed his main master: me.  He was quill-free, and I was grateful for that outcome.

As a side note: Dogs never learn to avoid porcupines after their first encounter with them; in fact, most dogs will go after porcupines even more aggressively the second time. If you are in porcupine habitat, it is always wise to have your pup on a retractable leash. Most of the time, my dogs are harnessed, and leashed.