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SPEECH TO NCHS SENIORS
May 16, 2003
by JoAnn Martin Baumgartner
I find it somewhat ironic to accept this honor from my former high school since the whole idea of awards always made me uncomfortable. I think it boils down to feeling that some people who do small, heroic things often do not get awards, like the Naperville woman I remember from my high school years. She spent her Saturdays at Hines Hospital visiting and comforting war veterans. I’d like to dedicate this award to her and all those people who do heroic things we may never learn about.
Some of you here today have had a great high school experience & might not even list fire drills & assemblies as your 2 favorite NCHS activities.
Many of you had teachers who inspired you. Cherish their memory. Others may not have felt this way and are thrilled high school is over. I want to address both groups. For those of you who will expand your education in college, I say “Hurray, the system did NOT fail you.”
To those who are facing Robert Frost’s diversion in the road and choose a different way, I say “Go for it,” or like Yogi Berra said, “When you see a fork in the road, take it.”
During the years I spent as a sales rep. for a check printing company, I worked with former Chicago Bear, Ronnie Bull, and Yankee & Chicago White Sox player, Bill Moose Skowron, who also happens to own 4 or 5 World Series rings. I found it was beneficial to learn about the product beginning in the factory, then moving up to the office, and finally working with Moose and Ron in outside sales. So whether you become a plumber or a politician, don’t be discouraged by starting a job in a modest position; the most important thing is to do any job well.
Scott Adams in his Dilbert comic strip wrote that doing a good job may spare you from one day having your boss turn to you and say:
“I have an UN-important project to do - and I thought of you.”
I was lucky. When I left sales for a banking career, I was able to take advantage of bank marketing schools at the University of Colorado and Temple University. The skills I learned helped with another interest l0 years later -- writing TV scripts for Naperville’s cable access, something I really loved doing. And that’s a good tip to pass on to you – try to find a job you really love.
Earlier I addressed students who plan to attend college. I also want to tell you about some of the cranky autodidactics I know – friends who did not attend college, but who taught themselves by voraciously reading books. They not only amassed information, they also learned to believe in their abilities and accomplished wonderful things.
My son’s favorite autodidactic is shock-jock, Steve Dahl. I have 3 favorites: Poet Robert Frost (who left college in less than a year); African American playwright, August Wilson, who found his education in Pittsburg libraries reading great authors; and Woody Allen, who perpetually lives in a world of existential despair.
I’d like you to look around today at the classmates with whom you’ve shared your 4 years at NCHS. A few of you will do astonishing things in the future – hopefully this side of the law – and a few will become the next generation of millionaires. The millionaires will accomplish this through entrepreneurial skill, knowledge, and a small measure of “dumb luck.” Never discount DUMB LUCK.
Allow me the clairvoyance to look into the future and address the entrepreneurs among you. One day you may be in a position to work on boards of deserving organizations or add a wing to a hospital in your community. You may even do something more modest -- like starting a fund to help pay the expenses of classmates -- who can’t afford to attend -- your 25th high school reunion in 2028. Few acts in your life are better than ones of self/less/ness.
Your generation is in the position to change what’s wrong in our country through legislation. Use that power by informing yourselves on all sides of an issue and vote for what you believe.
No matter what’s ahead for you, continue to fight for responsible standards rather than the lowest common denominator. Turn Jerry Springer off and put the news hour with Jim Lehrer on – and if you can’t do that, read a newspaper on line or in print.
Nothing I can tell you today will be better than to perform small acts of courage & kindness, to support causes larger than yourself, and to choose forgiveness over anger. When you fail, as all of us do, learn from your failure & adjust your life, but not your standards.
I can give you a personal example of my successes and failures. Over 30 years ago there was a small parcel of wooded land on Hobson Road in danger of being developed. Some people got together to try & keep the land as a forest preserve. One way they called attention to their idea was by marching to SAVE EGERMANN WOODS which I eagerly did with my 2 young children. Ultimately, the land was saved from development, and today scenic Egermann Woods is an area to enjoy. That was a success for a small group of people who had the courage of their convictions.
Not all things go this well. When the Riverwalk was being constructed, a portion of the land was slated to be developed for condominiums. A group of people opposed this concept hoping the land would be left for open space or a picnic area.
My small part was to give an impassioned speech -- at a City Council meeting -- in an effort to get support for open space. Ultimately, the land was developed into what is now an attractive condominium complex on Aurora Road across from NCHS.
Look -- Win or lose – if you believe in something, stand up for what you think is right & fight for what you believe.
Martin Luther King put this kind of conviction in a speech about having a dream of what could be. Jung & Freud also told us a lot about dreams & the role they play in our lives. Don’t give up your dreams; they can make a difference.
Some of you will instinctively become leaders; others will be catalysts. Whether you are a catalyst or a leader, examine all sides of an issue for an approach that may be unorthodox, unusual or new. The popular expression is to think outside the box; I’d say simply: don’t box yourself in with any limitations.
The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert, who have none of the advantages of your NCHS education, live amid unpredictable -- & dangerous obstacles, yet I have read they often feel more secure than we do. One reason may be -- that they have a close relationship with nature. Find time to nurture that kind of spirituality. A sense of wonder will improve your life.
Once you're away from school, don’t stop reading. In a world that may be in danger of losing its spiritual identity to technology, practice the values you can learn from reading.
Recently I attended a brunch with Canadian author, Yann Martel, who wrote The Life of Pi. (That’s the mathematical Pi – P-I rather than American Pie). The Life of Pi is a book I recommend for your summer reading. Author Martel agreed that good books help to tell you who you are.
French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, offers this thought about a person which I’ve applied to reading books: What if someone wrote a book that changed not the way you think about everything, BUT CHANGED EVERY-THING ABOUT THE WAY YOU THINK?
It’s also important to keep a proper perspective. I remember reading that physicists were on the verge of learning more about the Higgs Boson. The Higgs Boson is composed of particles that cannot be seen, but by smashing them together at tremendous energies, give new clues as to how the world began. Well, most of us are not expected to know complicated things like the Higgs -- but reading articles allows us to respect physicists who DO understand them -- and to know why this work is so important. When it comes time to get government funding for science, your vote will help to make a difference.
I work for a doctor who believes laughter helps to keep you healthy & may even contribute to a long life. So whether a line from a Saturday Nite Live program -- or an Austin Powers or Adam Sandler movie -- breaks you up, laugh often, especially when you are down.
I’ll leave you today with some closing thoughts:
Don’t be afraid of crazy ideas – the best science started that way….Stay close to nature and sometime in your life, even plant trees – as a recent book title reminds us,
Hope is the Thing with Feathers.
Remember to thank supportive parents by telling them how grateful you are to be their daughter or son, & finally, as you leave NCHS, consider these words of Woody Allen who
wrote, “The only thing standing
between me and greatness is me.” Don’t let anything stand
between you and what you want to be.