Thoughts For The Class Of 2015: ‘Be Not Afraid Of Greatness’

Next week, the South Florida Fairgrounds will host commencement exercises for the four public high schools serving the western communities, starting with Royal Palm Beach High School on Monday, May 18 at 7:30 p.m., followed by Palm Beach Central High School on Wednesday, May 20 at 8 a.m. Wellington High School’s graduation ceremony follows on Thursday, May 21 at noon, and Seminole Ridge High School concludes the series on Friday, May 22 at 8 a.m.

We won’t be on stage presenting grandiose oral dissertations to those donned in cap and gown. But that doesn’t stop us at the Town-Crier from stepping behind our virtual podium and offering words of wisdom as well. So, with that in mind…

Dear esteemed members of the Class of 2015:

William Shakespeare — perhaps the greatest author of words in the history of mankind — once opined, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

As you prepare to leave the hallowed halls and classrooms of high school education, we ask you to consider these words uttered by Malvolio in Twelfth Night and cross-apply them to whatever your travels dictate.

“Some are born great.” To many, this is implicitly those few who enter society with the proverbial silver spoon, such as newborn Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Because their parents — and, in some cases, grandparents — have already been established in the upper echelons, they will likely never want for food, shelter or financial stability. Of course, they will also never want for the watchful eye of the media, with every misstep along the way intensely scrutinized and often overblown.

“Some achieve greatness.” The traditional “American work ethic” comes to mind here, with greatness achieved through hard work and perseverance. Individuals such as Thomas Edison or, more recently, Steve Jobs, might be considered here — members of society whose time, effort and sweat led to great inventions that changed life, often for the better.

“Some have greatness thrust upon them.” Often, individuals find themselves in situations within society where they do something extraordinary. Historic examples might include those who were leaders of the Underground Railroad, or individuals such as Oskar Schindler, who saved hundreds of Jews from death in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

Let’s be honest: by these standards, most of us are not born great, and still fewer of us have greatness thrust upon us. For the vast majority, to achieve greatness requires dedication and self-sacrifice, whether your post-high school experiences take place in the college classroom, the armed forces or the workplace.

In his May 2010 address to the graduating class of Catholic University of America, the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell advised his students to, “Do something great with what you have learned and experienced. Your efforts will mean precious little if you are content to graduate magna cum mediocrity, willing to ignore all the sacrifices that have brought you to this moment.”

He advised his 1,400 graduates to live what their schools, parents and upbringing has taught them and, “give it away to a world, to a humanity that needs our unique brand of greatness, your unique brand of greatness, to make it a better place tomorrow than it is today.”

“Blend that diploma with a life and profession lived well and you will make a difference, you will do something great,” O’Connell continued. “It will take time and effort and sacrifice, for sure. You probably will not become famous — most of us do not — but you will become known for whom and what you are among those to whom you matter most and who matter most to you.”

So be great, Class of 2015. Live by example, and the world will realize your greatness, whether through gaudy flashes of neon or by quiet acknowledgment from your peers. Make the world a better place. We look forward to seeing the results.