In case youíre wondering what a priest wears underneath one of these collars, let me show you. [show Dragons T-shirt]
I admit I was part of the insane crowd that drove from Cameron to the Jones Dome the last two Novembers. I was proud of everyone Ė the band, the dance team, the cheerleaders, the players, coaches, teachers, parents and boosters throughout the city who made this a special year that got only better and better through football, wrestling and basketball, but also through speech, debate, music and academics. Iím proud of you graduates, and proud to be part of Cameron.
You achieved many great things this year, but not one of those accomplishments was as great as this day. Graduation is what high school is all about. Students spend a lot of time studying at home and participating at classes, all for one goal: a diploma. Today you reach that goal in an emotional ceremony of success and loss. You have achieved what you set out to do, but now you leave this school to commence a new journey without the same friends, without the same routine, without the clout that seniors have. You have much to smile about today, but you may shed a few tears as well.
I want to make a few comments about sports. I realize that not every senior played on a team that made it to State. I realize that the teams that did make it to State needed more than seniors to do it. But because you are a class, you will be remembered as the leaders of a trail of athletic excellence. Youíve had an experience that not many other seniors get in this school or in any other school.
You have seen what sports can do. They can transform you from individuals into a team. They make you willing to sacrifice the time you could give to other activities. Sports will change your diet. They can determine who your friends are. They help you discover who you are under pressure. Sports make you listen to advice you donít want to hear. They occupy a lot of your mind. And theyíre fun. Sports can teach you to be idealistic; they show you a goal, and they hope you never give up. They teach you not to run away from conflict, but to run into it. They teach you about struggle, about hoping, and about expending all your energy for something you believe in, even when others do not. Sports will also teach you about defeat. They will help you discover whether or not you have what it takes to pick yourself up after you fall down, to learn why you lost, and to try it again, and again.
And if you donít play sports, if you watch sports, sports have an impact on your life as well. Fans experience the joy and sorrow of the teams. Fans feel that they are more worthwhile when their team wins. It isnít logical, but thatís what fans do. We saw it throughout the city of Cameron this year. Successful sport teams boost civic pride.
So sports can do a lot of good. But they also have some dangers. Sports can be addictive. Especially in high school and in college, they can take your mind away from the real purpose youíre there Ė to go to school and to work toward that diploma. In the workplace sports can distract you from the task at hand, and at home they can keep you from relating to the people who love you and need you. Sports can also feed the impression that there are two kinds of groups in the world: thereís us, and thereís them. They can create competition where it does not naturally exist. Sports create some rivalries that make no sense. They stir up in players and in fans uncontrolled emotions Ė anger, hatred and violence. A football field can teach you lessons about goal-setting, practice, teamwork and failure. A football field can help you interpret life, but it is not life. Even among professional athletes, if the game becomes their world, they will never be true champions.
Graduates, playing for a State championship is a great accomplishment, but it is not the greatest accomplishment of your high school years. Graduation is your greatest accomplishment. Graduation affirms all the skills you have learned and used in order to live a great life.
This year you have had a brush with excellence that will stay with you for a lifetime. But excellence needs to be refreshed over and over again, excellence not just in sports, but excellence in the classroom, at work and at home. If a sports championship this year is the only brush with excellence you have for the rest of your life, you will waste its benefits. We donít need people who simply have memories of excellence. We need people who create excellence, who become excellent. Excellence isnít always about being better than someone else; it is never about putting someone else down. Excellence is a desire to develop in body, mind and spirit. Excellence is not getting other people to love you; it is about you loving other people, serving other people, making a difference in someone elseís life and giving them hope.
We live in a world that needs champions. We need champions in the field of nursing, people who will use their minds and their hearts to help sick children and adults. We need champions in the fire department, people who will risk their own lives to save the lives of others. We need champions in chemistry, people who will study how to use the natural world and make it a better place that respects human life. We need champions in farming, people who will work the ground and tend the animals to feed a hungry world. We need champions in politics, people with a vision for a better society, people who realize that itís not always a case of us against them, but our country working with the other countries of the world to eliminate hunger, to eradicate poverty, and to provide peaceful solutions where violence has failed.
Graduates of Cameron High School 2006, you know what victory smells like, and we need you to bring victory to our efforts to make this a world of peace not contest, where people care about their neighbor, not about themselves. You have the experience. You have the skills. We need you. Go into the future with a vision for what can be, and make our society a champion. Congratulations to you all.
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