A Commencement Address to the Students of the Breathitt County area High Schools
Students, faculty, parents, friends, and neighbors, my name is Fletcher Long. I moved to Breathitt County in July of 2019 and both my family and I have basked in the communities’ warm and gracious acceptance since arriving.
I am not from here. I consider myself much the poorer for that.
I stand before you incredibly honored and humbled to have been self-selected to give the Commencement Address for the area high school students of all the area high schools. Many of you graduating, and those of you supporting someone’s graduation will say, probably light-heartedly, that “You never thought this day would come.” Well, I can say, having lived over half a century, I agree with you.
I never thought this day would come for me either. I am extremely pleased and honored to be here even though I am crashing this party.
Commencement is the celebration of the hard work each of you; student, faculty, and parent, have done to realize this achievement. We are here to welcome you to the beginning of the rest of your lives, to wish this graduating classes well with whatever they elect to do in the future, and to make people realize the steps you have taken to get here have been worthwhile.
Generally, noted politicians are selected to give these addresses. That has been the custom since Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop addressed Harvard’s first commencement in 1642. There were nine commencers on that day.
Governor Winthrop’s comments were very brief, as the earliest ceremonies were more about hearing from the students themselves than an outside speaker. Early addresses were given in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Some universities have continued the tradition of an address in Latin with the audience provided translations replete with instructions about when to laugh.
This address will be in English even though my fan-club at Hardees would prefer I address you in Latin. You may laugh where you choose. Some of you may already be chuckling.
Many of you shortly, or in four or so years, will go on a job interview. Some of you will be met with good news of your being hired, others may not. You will continue to soldier on regardless of what the news happens to be because that is what has been instilled in you from your parents, your support systems, your faculty, friends, coaches, teachers and administrators.
I would like to tell you about one of my former job interviews.
I was applying for a job as an assistant football coach on a prestigious staff at a prestigious high school football program. You see, I have always wanted to get to be on a high school coaching sideline wearing headphones. I have no idea to whom I would be talking nor even what I would say, but it seems to be both a really cool and fun thing to do.
I never dreamt I would be the Editor of a prestigious and ancient newspaper like the Times-Voice. I figured I would just be something mundane and stupid like a lawyer. Lesson number one, be ready to fold your dreams and aspirations into your realities.
So, I go in to attempt to get this job on this coaching staff and am told I am not qualified. I believed I was qualified.
To add insult to injury, I was told I wasn’t capable of holding the down and distance marker on a high-school sideline. I have always thought well of the guys assigned to hold the chains and down marker. Apparently, I think better of them than the guy who was interviewing me.
I thought that commentary was unnecessary. I thought the comment was cruel. I was destroyed by it. I could have easily quit, right there.
Then I thought of something which came from one of my favorite movies. I thought of something I want to put in your heads to withdraw from your memories on occasions you need it. There will be days in all of your futures where you will need it.
I thought about a scene from the movie, “Rudy.” In “Rudy,” a ball player called “Rudy,” was chasing his dream and it was looking as though he would fall just short. His pursuit of his dream was looking destined to end up where my dream, on the day of my interview, looked destined to finish; in life’s trash-bin.
A friend of his got in his face and said something to him I am saying to you right now. “In this lifetime, you don’t have to prove nothing to nobody-except yourself. And after what you’ve gone through, if you haven’t done that by now, it ain’t gonna never happen.” My apologies to the English Departments of all of these esteemed institutions of higher learning.
Rudy went on to realize his dream, because he didn’t quit. Fletcher Long has gone on to gain employment in a job which has become his dream job though, when he got it, it was a dream he never realized he had ever before dreamt. Even when suffering considerable defeat and set-backs in life, I, like Rudy, didn’t quit. I demand this same doggedness from every last one of you.
I send you out into the world now, to college, to the workforce, to the military, to wherever your path may lead. Don’t be surprised if your path leads you somewhere you didn’t even know your were going. Go on and go! You just may find you love the destination after you arrive.
Soldier on! Don’t you ever quit! Remember, the Times-Voice loves each and every one of you.
You can take this for whatever you find it worth but THAT'S THE LONG VERSION!