How many high school and college graduations have you attended over the years? I can’t answer that, because I don’t have that many fingers and toes. Let’s just say it’s a bunch.
And what is the most popular theme of graduation speeches? That’s right: “You should follow your dream.” “Never give up.” “A setback is a setup for a comeback.”
That kind of encouragement is important, of course. Graduates need that. They need to believe in themselves.
But W. Alton White came up with something different for his brief talk to graduating seniors of LaGrange High School in west Georgia. (Our grandson, Alex Brock, is one of the happy graduates.)
As principal of the school, White needed to say a few words, and he chose exactly the right ones, I think. What did he say?
“Always stay humble and kind.”
If those words sound familiar, it’s probably because they’re from a country song by Tim McGraw. It begins this way: “You know there's a light that glows by the front door/Don't forget the key's under the mat/When childhood stars shine/Always stay humble and kind.”
I talked to the principal and congratulated him on a great talk. But did you use this theme, I asked, because you think students are not humble and kind? Here’s what he said:
“To be honest with you, I think the adults they come in contact with don’t set a real good example for them at times. The thing that sticks out in my mind is all this stuff going on politically. No matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, in favor of the president or against the president or whatever, you turn on the news every day, and they’re just ugly to each other—the name-calling and just downright hateful almost.”
He went on: “I think for the most part, kids are kind, and somewhere along the way, we steer them in the wrong direction. One thing that I wanted to get across to them is when you become an adult, don’t let that change who you are now.”
White noted that the song does not say young people should become humble and kind. It says they should stay humble and kind.
To help graduates remember his message, he sent them home with a 48-page hardback book, along with their diplomas, titled “Humble and Kind.” It features lyrics of the song, along with an introduction by Tim McGraw and an epilogue by Lori McKenna, the songwriter. When White’s administrative assistant, Janice Westbrook, called the publisher, Hachette Book Group, and explained what the books would be used for, the company sent 270 copies, free of charge.
White ended his talk with this advice from the song: “Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you/When you get where you’re goin’/Don’t forget to turn back around/Help the next one in line/Always stay humble and kind.”
That may be the best advice I’ve ever heard at a graduation ceremony. Thanks, Mr. White.