Roy Exum: ‘Raise The Bar Higher, OK?’

Thursday, May 22, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Today I want you to pretend you are sitting in a gymnasium, dressed to the nines beneath your graduation gown at your high school commencement. It’s late morning, with a big lunch planned afterwards with your folks and grandparents, and it hasn’t yet dawned on you that you’ll not return to high school ever again.

You’re excited, pumped that you have achieved the diploma by the hardest with Algebra II being what it is, and you can feel the magic just before you’ll walk across the stage. On this particular day you are graduating from Warren Easton Charter High School in New Orleans and your classmates have already been accepted at LSU, Tulane, and other Southern schools. But that doesn’t matter either; all you want to do is toss that tassel.

Everybody is sitting in anticipation. It’s already clammy under the gown and … whoa! … what is this! The most gorgeous woman in the world steps from behind the curtain and seems to literally glide with a brimming smile towards the lectern. Nobody says a thing. They don’t have to. Instead there is wild pandemonium, shouts and a standing ovation like none before, because everybody present immediately recognized the “Pretty Woman,” actress Sandra Bullock.

More importantly, everybody in the gym knows that since Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed Warren Eason in 2005, Sandra has become the most beloved person in New Orleans since Archie Manning gave his all for the Saints. Her philanthropic spirit has shined the brightest at the charter school where she’s bought band uniforms, athletic equipment, computers and countless more. She has paid a king’s ransom, simply so the kids there could excel like no others.

So the seniors yelled the loudest at her appearance and, as the shock wore away that the award-winning actress would present this year’s Commencement Address, her presence just made the moment all the better. But with everybody on the edge of their seats, straining to hear her every word, her talk lasted just four minutes. No one there will ever forget a second of what she said.

Here, then, is the complete text of Sandra Bullock’s commencement speech on Monday:

* * *

“I was trying to remember my graduation and, oddly, I couldn’t remember anything. I remembered how good I looked and then I went back and looked at pictures and I really didn’t look so good. … I didn’t remember anything because I was so worried about the future, I wasn’t present, which made me think about a question someone asked me just recently. And that question was, ‘If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what would you say?’

“And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s kinda heavy,’ and then I realized what I wished someone had said to me was what I’ve been spending the last four years telling a little boy who I love more than anything, who happens to be my son, and who’s from New Orleans, and so I thought maybe I would share that with you guys.

“What I tell a four-year-old is what I wish someone would’ve told me before I stepped out in the world and the first thing is, stop worrying so much, OK? Stop being scared of the unknown, because anything I worried about didn’t happen. Other stuff happened, but not what I worried about. The unknown we can’t do anything about, and I don’t remember any of the moments in my life where I worried. So that’s a lot of time I couldn’t get back.

“The second thing was, raise the bar higher. OK? It is noisy out there and for some reason, people want to see you fail. But that’s not your problem. That is their problem. I only remember the moments where I tried beyond what I thought I could do and I do not remember the failures because I didn’t. Nothing is a failure. It’s just not supposed to work out that way because something better is supposed to come along.

“The third thing we work on at home in the mornings is that we turn on the music really, really loud before we leave the house and the rule is you have to dance a little bit before you step out in the world because it changes the way you walk. It changes the way you walk out in the world. So do that.

“Eat something green every day with every meal. It’s growing food for adults as well. Do not pick your nose in public. Think about this. How about we just don’t pick it in private either? How about we just go get a tissue? I know it takes a little extra effort but it gets the job done right away and there’s no public humiliation and that can go with a lot of other things as well, so make a little bit of an effort.

“When someone who cares about you hugs you, hug them back with two arms. Don’t do the one-arm hug, because when you hug with two arms, it allows you to lean on somebody and we always need someone to lean on.

“And if someone doesn’t want to play with you, it’s OK. It’s OK. You know, not everyone’s going to love us. Go find somebody who does want to play with you and who appreciates what you have to offer. And last but not least is, go find your joy. Whatever that is, go find your joy.

“Are you going to have a good day or are you going to have a great day, because it’s completely up to you. It’s what you’re going to remember in the end. You’re not going to remember how you worried. You’re not going to remember the what ifs or the whys or who wronged you.

“It’s the joy that stays with you, and I want to thank you guys for the amazing joy that Warren Easton brings me every day. You make me walk out into the world with pride and I want you to go find it and I want you to go save the world while you’re at it, and I thank you so much.

“Congratulations, class of 2014. You make me so proud.”

* * *

Is that the best ever, or what!


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