Saving the Best for Last

John Muir High School
Baccalaureate Services
June 20, 1999

Good Afternoon.

Superintendent Vignes, Dr. Newman and other members of the faculty and staff of John Muir High School; members of the class of 1999; parents, friends and relatives; ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you for the invitation to address you at this important event. I am honored: to share the excitement of high school graduation; to congratulate those who are graduating; to bask in the glory of achievement and success.

Graduations are such wonderful occasions! I can’t think of any one here who would not share the happiness of this event. The graduates, the teachers and school staff, the parents, friends and relatives – at least, everyone shares a great sense of relief! We made it, the graduates say; they made, the others say, forgetting all the moments of uncertainty, frustration, and fatigue along the way.

But more importantly, there is no greater satisfaction than the feeling of success, of accomplishment, of completion, of not having to go back. And at events like this, there is anticipation about the future, about better things to come.

That’s what I’d like to talk about in the next few minutes: the future, about the opportunity offered by success, and the responsibilities that success imposes. Mainly though, I want to talk about the opportunity for the future and how best to take advantage of that.

I speak primarily to the graduating students at this point.

You celebrate today an important achievement; in fact, it might be the most important success of your life, because you have proved that hard work pays off, that discipline and study, exercise and practice, get a good result: a high school diploma, and entry into college and the workforce. Just a month ago, or even a week ago, your futures were very different!

That’s an important lesson, because it’s a lesson that can affect your life in the most important way. You’re entitled to celebrate today, and to relish your achievement. But I would urge that tomorrow – no later than tomorrow—you sit down and think about whatever your goals in life have been, and make them higher. You have—and you should think carefully about – a higher and broader horizon than ever before.

One conclusion I’ve drawn about life is that at any point in time, there is no way telling what one can accomplish. You can think hard yourself and your talents, and you can inquire of others, but in the end only time will tell what the future holds for each of us, and what each can ultimately achieve.

That’s why it is so important that your goals be high. Dream! Imagine! Hope! Don’t fall short, because then you’ll never know what might have been.

It’s hard on an occasion like this not to thing back on one’s own life. And maybe my own experience might be helpful to some of you.

When I finished high school, I had no idea what I wanted to be, although through the encouragement of my parents I knew I wanted to go to college. I had played basketball in high school, and with some success. As a junior and a senior, I was named All City in my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa.

It seemed logical to continue in sports and I entered college on an athletic scholarship. But after the first year, it was clear to me that I would not be starter in college competition, and I decided to focus on studies after that. My grades in college were good, but when I graduate I was no closer to knowing what I wanted to do.

I had narrowed my thinking to be either a teacher or a lawyer, and off I went to military service. About the same time, though, I met a young woman, Claire, who would become my wife. We were married and we spent the last two years of military service together. Our first child arrived before the two years were up, and I started to think again about the future.

I filed applications to law schools and was admitted. It was time to make one of the most important decision of my life—married, a father, about to be unemployed. Going to law school seemed right at the time, and it worked out to be a good choice for me.

Since then, I worked for more than 30 years as a lawyer, and have been active as well in community organizations and local government, as you know. I served on the Council during the 1980’s and as Mayor of Pasadena during 1984-86. As of May 3rd of this year, about 50 days ago, I was sworn in as Pasadena’s first Citywide elected Mayor.

As I look back, I can say with all honesty that each stage of my life has been more challenging, more interesting, and more satisfying than the last. In a sense, at each stage of life, I’ve saved the best for last.

I’ve been lucky in many ways—I’m the first to admit that. Not everyone will be as fortunate as I have been with opportunities and support, with friends and family, with economic times and with just plain good luck.

But there are two lessons that I have taken from my experience that I want to put on the table for you—the graduates—today.

The first I’ve already mentioned: When you celebrate a success—like high school graduation—sit down the next day and readjust your goals. Set them higher! We don’t know at any point what the future holds, and what our own capacities and opportunities will be.

Aim high! Don’t be afraid of failure! Challenge the future and it will challenge you. And the challenge will take you to new successes that you were afraid to dream about! Think big, and I believe you’ll do big. You’ve proved today you can succeed. Go for the highest goals you can imagine, and you’ll succeed beyond your dreams.

The second lesson is that the community in which you live—whatever community that turns out to be—deserves your time and your talent. When the question came up for me last December whether to run for Mayor, I realized that my time on the city Council in the 1980’s, working for Pasadena, offered some of the most satisfying experiences of my life, except for my role as a husband and father.

There were controversies in those years, there were failures, and there were tragic situations beyond my control. But in the end, the opportunities to help people. To build a greater City, and to help shape the future were experiences I never forgot. So, I decided to run for Mayor, and had the good fortune of winning.

And I stand before now, honored by the confidence the voters expressed in me and excited—truly excited—to have this opportunity to serve the community. I believe that in my career, I have saved the best for last!

I hope to inspire each of you, as you go through life, to devote yourself to community activities and community goals. The starting point is to vote as though your life depended on it. Never let a chance go by. If you need motivation, let me mention a recent Wall Street Journal report that stated that during the last 25 years, voters in your age group—18 to 24 years—by majority vote chose the winning candidate in 6 out of 7 presidential elections.

And after voting, go to community forums, study a current issue and prepare a speech, accept a position on the board of your neighborhood association, run for City Council! The community needs you and you need the community, and if you get involved you’ll be rewarded in many ways!

In closing my remarks, I would like to offer some words of encouragement—and some challenges—to you who will lead us in the next century.

Our economy is the most prosperous in the world, creating a quality of life that is the envy of all people who learn about it. But let us all remember the growing income gap between rich and poor and let us all work to narrow that gap. For we will be judged not just by the riches we create, but by our efforts to enrich the entire community.

At the same time as we work to crate wealth, let us remember as well the impact of industry and urbanization on the environment, and let us strive for a community that is in balance with nature.

A city is a place above all where people live, and the quality of any city is judged by the quality of its neighborhoods. Pasadena is blest with wonderful neighborhoods, in which neighbors extend the hand of friendship and of help. Wherever the future takes you, remember the secret of quality of life in our neighborhoods is this hand of friendship and help.

Pasadena is also blest with a diverse population, and we do not run from this diversity because we know it is our strength. But harmony amid such diversity does take continued effort. So embrace this uniqueness of each other’s values and traditions, and invite one another to participate in reaching common goals.

There you have it! My best effort to inspire you on this important day. Congratulations for your success. Best wishes for the future. Adjust your goals upward of each time you have a success, and save the best for last! 

Posted: 6/20/1999 09:05:00 AM