All of you are currently experiencing a bittersweet moment that will resurface again and again in your lifetime and that is, “Life Is Not Fair.” Like yourselves, hundreds of thousands of high school seniors throughout America had to lift and shift from attending classroom instruction to staying at home and doing online classwork. This pandemic forced you to bunker down and get it done.
Therefore, there are no tearful and joyful graduation parties, last-minute hugs with your best friends, and hearing the chants and cheers of your families and friends at the Wool Bowl. Yet, congratulations! Why? Each of you demonstrated that you possess the capacity to quickly recover and adapt from difficulties. Us old-timers refer to that as being resilient. You have learned to make “sweet-tasting lemonade from sour lemons.”
Throughout American history, there have been life-changing worldwide events that adversely impacted American lives. My father was scheduled to graduate from high school with his 1943 class. His life, along with millions of other Americans, was altered on Dec. 7, 1941. The Japanese attacked American warships located at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, and to make matters worse the following day, Adolph Hitler and his Nazis declared war on the United States.
My father along with millions of other young Americans found themselves in a quandary — what to do? As he told me, he and some of his high school friends decided to drop out of school and enlist in the military. They felt that a greater imminent, deadly danger existed to America; therefore, obtaining their high school diplomas was of secondary importance. So they willingly traded their civilian clothes for the military uniforms of the Marine Corps, Navy, Coast Guard, Army Air Corps and the United States Army.
These boys and girls quickly became young, hardened war veterans. Some were killed while others were permanently scarred and maimed for the rest of their lives. Thousands of others didn’t survive and were buried at sea or in foreign-soil cemeteries; some were never recovered. World War II cost the lives of approximately 407,000 Americans.
In six years approximately 75 million people died worldwide to include 40 million civilians. After the war was over, the surviving Americans persevered; they gathered their belongings, restored their lives, and established new ones in the hopes of providing a peaceful way of living for themselves and their posterity.
They didn’t believe in entitlement or being enabled, all they asked for were opportunities to demonstrate they could get the job done. They went on to become known as America’s Greatest Generation.
Don’t be deterred by this current critical crisis from your future hopes, ambitions and dreams. Develop short- and long-term plans with obtainable, adjustable goals. Each goal should have realistic objectives that serve as progression checkpoints to assess your progress in life. Don’t cheat yourself by failing to realistically identify your strengths and weaknesses; maintain your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses.
Develop your own “Brand of Excellence” and honestly determine when and where you have fallen below your personal high-quality expectations. Don’t rely on others to enable you or make you believe that you are entitled. Why? Because not only are you competing against fellow Americans in today’s global macro-economic market, but your competition is intensified by international challengers.
Understand when you have been given an opportunity for improving yourself, enhancing your knowledge and honing your personal skills. Don’t waste it. Don’t be afraid to pursue it. Remember, there will be future catastrophic events that will challenge you. Learn from this one.
You wonder who I am — that’s not important. Like so many of you, I didn’t know what (was) ahead of me when I graduated from high school back in 1968. I was an average student, a fair athlete who went on to experience first-hand combat in Vietnam and Laos. I spent 20 years educating young men and women, and served almost 23 years as a soldier, attaining 10 different ranks as I transitioned from a lowly private to a lieutenant colonel commander. All I asked for was the opportunity to demonstrate that I could do the job.
One of my last comments to all of you, which I hope you remember for the rest of your lives: Don’t do stupid stuff! You know when your actions cross the line to the dark, dumb side of life; have the guts to avoid it. Making the right and ethical decision sometimes takes a lot of courage, but it sure prevents a lot of pain later in life.
Like John Wayne, a famous 20th Century iconic star was credited for saying, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”
A major lesson learned in my 70 years of living is to take the time to say “thank you” to those individuals who help, mentor and guide you throughout your lives. Thank those who educated you, who coached you, who challenged you, who corrected you when you were wrong, who fed you, who clothed you, who held you in your darkest hours and who loved you. Those two words, “thank you,” are worth a million dollars when you say and mean it.
Finally, remember “luck” is either good or bad. The more you prepare, the more you anticipate and the more knowledge you absorb will positively impact and determine the flavor of your luck. Critical thinking and information analysis is not an innate trait, it’s learned and developed.
I pass on to you what President John F. Kennedy stated during his inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1961 when I was 11 years old: “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
So, graduates of the class of 2020 — go forth and take care of business!
United States Army (retired), educator (retired), baseball coach (retired)
By Gilbert Alvarado
Special to the Daily Record