Sunday, June 26, 2016


On June 25th, 2016 I had the privilege of delivering the commencement speech to the graduating class of 113 students at my alma mater – Royalton Hartland.

It was truly an honor and a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Here is the transcript of that speech….

The last day of school…on a hot day like this…I’m sure a lot of you really want to get out of here….like now.

So, I promise to keep this speech just like me…short and sweet.

Most commencement speakers addressing graduates across America today will talk about the future. I won’t.

Instead, I want to talk about your past and present.

I want to challenge you to always remember who you are and where you came from.

And, just where did you come from?

If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you know that Business First came out with their annual rankings of WNY schools.

Where did we end up? 70th

Some of you might get “school envy” from that – and wish you had gone to Clarence and Williamsville where all the “cool” kids go.

Some of you might worry that you were cheated out of an education as you head out into the Real World.


I strongly believe that you can toss aside those rankings.

You are more prepared for work, family, and community than any young adult at those larger, fancier schools.

I often tell people this:

There’s a reason Clark Kent was raised on a farm.

If he was raised in Metropolis…he never would have become Superman.

I say that because only here…out in the countryside of Gasport…or in this quaint village of Middleport…can you develop the traits, the character, the life skills to become the world’s next super hero.

None of you were born on the planet Krypton but just being here, at Roy-Hart, you’ve been given super powers of your own that can’t be achieved elsewhere.

For starters, think about your selflessness, the love of community, the love of your fellow Man and the empathy that you’ve developed here.

In the Big City and suburbs, most people consider making a donation their way of making an impact.

Not here. A small community survives and flourishes because everyone is directly involved in it.

Think about the experiences you’ve had helping people, going on mission trips, helping at fundraisers, and making the world a better place with your blood, sweat and tears.

If you were like Will Woodman, you were involved in the Boy Scout program and you undertook service projects that made Middleport better.

If you were like Kelsey Voelker, a Community All-Star, you volunteered for -- and enjoyed helping –countless organizations.

Because of that, you are now prepared to go out into the bigger world and change it – and God knows, this world needs a lot of changing.

Your super powers don’t end there.

You might have thought you were a super hero in purple and white on the diamond, field or court.

If you went to a larger school, you might not have had that chance – there are only so many roster spots available on a team.

But here, you had that chance to participate. You had that chance to excel in athletics.

You might have been like Amber Villella -- who was a Time Warner Athlete of the week, one of the premier student-athletes in Western New York.

You might have been like Cameron Swick -- who showed that our athletes can beat the best that the entire state can throw at us.

Everyone of you had that chance to be an athlete.

From that you’ve gained so many life skills:  discipline, team work, a sense of urgency, and the ability to perform under stress.

If you’ve read any of my columns you know what I think about common core – and judging by Roy-Hart’s opt-out rates for exams, I know where a lot of families stand.

Common core stifles creativity. It stifles free thought. It promotes uniformity.

Common Core is rotten to the core.

So, how do you overcome common core? With stellar, nationally-recognized arts programs at Roy-Hart that gave everyone of you the chance to think outside of the box, to make things out of nothing, to draw, to sing, to act…to learn how to speak in front of a crowd, to turn ideas into reality.  

I’m sure two-time all-State trombonist Ben Bacon can attest to what the arts meant for him….as can Des’Ree Taylor who was the outstanding art student of the year.  

Let’s not forget the trades either.

I’m a manufacturing guy, so I tell people all the time, college isn’t for everyone and nor should it be.

If you want to make good money, do what people don’t do anymore…that is get dirty and do things with your mind and your hands.

Here, we have a culture that promotes work. BOCES isn’t for second class students. It’s for first class students who are wise beyond their years and know what they want out of life.

Take Haley Moore for example. This cosmetology major and SkillsUSA competitor dominated in school and is already working in a salon to pay for her nursing degree. 
Or how about Joe DiMayo, a superstar welder who had a paid internship at a local welding shop, and will be attending the new welding program at NCCC.

And, it doesn’t end there. We are all here for one reason…a good old fashioned education.

There is no better place to get one than here.

We have stellar teachers, small classes, and an environment in which you could receive personal attention…a welcoming place to learn, even if you didn’t want to.

And, if you didn’t want to, they made sure that you did.

Where else could you find such a friendly learning culture, where you could master the sciences, math, English and history?

Look at the accomplishments of our top 2 – Ben Bacon and Avery Green – they can hang with any of the great minds graduating today across this country – and they will.

So, never leave here thinking that were cheated, that you didn’t get the best in life coming from a small town.

You were given the best in life…you were given powers and abilities that students would never even dream of getting in the big schools.

That’s an incredible foundation to build off. It doesn’t matter if you are going to trade school, college, work or starting a family.

You have been given so much….to do so much.

The key is to never forget who you are. Never forget where you came from.

You will kick the world’s butt because you have Ram Power – you have character, empathy, moxie, work ethic, creativity, and intelligence because of where you came from.

You can be the next Superman or Supergirl.

You will come to realize that as you adjust to your new life…and you will appreciate that even more 10, 20 years down the road when you are raising a family, moving up in your wokplace, or sacrificing your time and energy for others.

You are unique. Just as Roy-Hart is unique.

Before I leave, I want you to ponder those who made that possible.

It takes a village to raise a child….the contributions of your teachers, school staff, coaches, scout leaders, pastors, and neighbors are immeasurable.

In the coming weeks before you move on into adulthood, take the time to thank those who helped make you who you are.

And, tonight, please thank your parents.

They knew that Gasport and Middleport were the places to raise a family….this small school, the fields, the forests, the Canal, the solitude, the quality of life.

Many of them sacrificed a lot to give you that life.

Many of your parents had to make hour long commutes to Buffalo or Rochester to ensure that you had a good home in a good community. 

Many others did not pursue the bigger jobs that they could have in bigger cities, knowing full well that the cities and the suburbs weren’t places to raise a child.

And, it was never easy.

You guys are kids of the Great Recession. When you were 9 or 10, your parents struggled with lost jobs, lost retirements, and maybe even lost homes.

They shed a lot of tears.

You probably did too.

But they made it all work. It wasn’t easy.

So, tonight, give mom and dad a hug…and not just because I said so.

Good luck….to all of you. You’ve all made Roy-Hart proud…and you will continue to do so for the rest of your lives. 

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