Last week, I had the honor of speaking to the students at my high school alma mater as part of a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Four other distinguished alumni and I were being honored for our accomplishments. As I flew to my hometown in Tennessee from Washington, DC, I turned through the pages of my 1981 senior yearbook to reflect and reminisce about those formative years. This piqued the interest of the elderly gentleman in the seat beside me, and he joined me in taking a happy stroll down memory lane. As the plane landed, he asked a great question that gave me pause, “Have you changed much since 1981?”
The obvious answer is “Yes, of course I’ve changed in the past 34 years.” I have more education and knowledge. I’ve been many places besides my hometown, from Scotland to Singapore to South Africa. I’ve met intriguing and interesting people such as U.S. Presidents to renowned scientists to famous celebrities. However, my values and my ties to the people I knew growing up haven’t changed. I realized that in the end, that’s what really matters.
I shared this realization with the students and asserted that each one of them has unlimited potential, but no matter how far they go in life or away from their hometown, they’ll always retain the important formative aspects of their high school experience, from classes they take but more importantly from teachers and friends. I encouraged each of them to get focused with such unbending courage on realizing their dreams that they bring those dreams into reality no matter what challenges they face. We can all choose to be our best, do great things, and have meaningful success in life whether we pursue goals that take us far from home or stay local and contribute to our hometown community.
On the flight back to Washington, D.C., I was more invigorated than ever having witnessed a slice of the bright future and possibilities that lie ahead for the young people at Morristown-Hamblen High School West. Multiply that by thousands of similarly-aged students around the world and it becomes an awe-inspiring and almost incomprehensible force of good!