Dear Staff, Parents and Guardians,
Last night's Westlake graduation was a beautiful celebration for students, parents and staff, as we ended one chapter and began another. While planning my graduation speech, I like to focus on a specific theme or point of advice for our graduates. This year I decided to weave a message from Mr. Rogers along with a personal reflection on a very special man. Please see my remarks below.
Tonight is an occasion to express gratitude for the support and gifts you have received. A night of “thank yous.” So, let me start …
First, on behalf of the entire school district, I would like to thank the parents, guardians, grandparents and extended family for supporting your loved ones as they journeyed through our schools. Whether your graduate has been with Eanes ISD for one or 13 years, family support creates a foundation for our work.
Second, I would like to thank the staff, from the first-grade teacher who taught a young child to read, to the AP English teacher who introduced a young adult to the subtleties of Shakespeare. From the bus driver to the custodian… Our staff has bestowed many gifts upon the Class of 2019.
Our teachers and coaches have challenged countless students to strive for excellence in all their pursuits – in academics, the arts and in co-curricular activities.
Over the last few weeks, I contemplated what message I would share tonight. As often happens, a recent event caused me to reflect on a lesson I hope will be relevant as you embark on your next journey in life.
Make no mistake, this moment is a milestone in your life. You only graduate from high school once.
But tonight is also a beginning. Until now, many of your life decisions have been made for you: where you grew up, what schools you attended, where you did and did not travel. Soon, those types of decisions and many more will be yours… More so than at any time in your life. This is a beginning.
In Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, his second habit says highly effective people Begin with the end in mind. They envision what they want in the future so they can work and plan toward that goal.
Another way I would like you to think of this concept is to imagine what you would want people to say about you at the end of your life. Let that be your North Star, and utilize your internal compass to get you there.
A gentleman named Bill Mack helped me learn this lesson. So, you say, who is Bill Mack?
A long time ago, far, far away, in my first year of teaching in Crystal Lake, Illinois, I wanted to be the best possible teacher. So, in the spring of my first year, I asked students in my math classes, “Who is the best teacher in this school?” Most said, “Mr. (or Coach) Mack.”
I knew little about Bill. I knew he was old (over 40), he was the head football coach, and he taught five classes in the Career and Technical Education program. But I was intrigued why so many kids thought he was the best teacher in the school.
That Spring, I approached Bill and asked if I could work as an unpaid assistant coach on his football staff. Why unpaid? I knew nothing about football – never played a down in my life. But I told him I could keep the stats; and since I was not being paid, it would not take anything away from the players. What did I want to get out of it? I wanted a mentor. I wanted to watch and learn. I wanted to be a better teacher.
After I explained my idea to Bill, I was a bit surprised he said yes. And then by chance, in the next few weeks, a few coaches left the program, and Bill was in a bind. He came to me to share good news and bad news.
The good news: I was going to get paid. The bad news: I would now spend the months of June and July with him while he taught me as much as he could about football because I would coach on the varsity level, outside linebackers on defense and running backs on offense. Foolishly, I said yes, and mused it might be more comfortable to coach inside, with the inside linebackers.
The years went by and I did learn a lot about football. But I learned much more about how to teach kids and how to lead by example. Once in a while during practice a player would ask me, “Hey Coach, what position did you play in high school?” I would grin and say, honestly, “Tenor Sax.” The player would then looked confused, and I would tell him to “just stop asking questions and go tackle someone.”
I coached with Bill for eight years. Somewhere during that time, a young man named Paul on the sophomore B team was making a tackle and tragically suffered a severe injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. Bill never directly coached Paul, but since the day of the accident and for the 30 years that followed, Bill stayed connected to Paul. Immediately after the injury, Bill sat with Paul in the hospital every moment he could, and he eventually helped Paul through the many trials that living with a disability entails. Bill set up a fund for Paul, and every year, right before Christmas, I would get a call from Bill. After a bit of chit chat, he would say, “Hey Tom, you’re doing OK, I think you can write Paul a check for a bit more this year.” And every year, about 50 of Bill’s former colleagues and players did just that.
So, what brought memories of Bill back to me? Less than two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a fellow coach letting me know Bill had passed away after a long illness. This past Saturday, I went back to pay my respects to Bill at his funeral in that Chicago suburb.
Financially, like most teachers, Bill was not a wealthy man but he was successful in many ways. I can think of few people I have personally known, who could look back on their life and know they had as much of an impact on others as Bill. The hundreds of former students, players and coaches who attended the funeral all loved Bill. Not because he taught them football, but because he cared about them, just like he cared about Paul. Bill loved his family of three kids and his wife of 58 years. He was reflective, strong, honest, wise and especially kind.
Some of you may remember we have used a "Mr. Rogers theme" throughout the year. Mr. Rogers said it well, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
So, my advice to you, just as I have encouraged our staff all year, is to Be Like Fred (Rogers). But I also hope you will Be Like Bill.
Now is your time to begin making critical choices that one day will define you. You have the ability to influence how you will be remembered. Begin with The End in Mind, define your true North and keep checking your compass. In doing so, I hope you will remember this story about Bill. Or, if you prefer, the words and lessons from Mr. Rogers.
Care about people, love others and please, please, be kind.
If you do those simple things, you will be successful and you will be remembered well.
To all, have a great summer and we will see you in August!
Dr. Tom Leonard