2010 Graduate Address
“Do What You Know”
Heath Miller, Class of 2010
So we are graduating ... what now? The past few weeks I’ve been asked that question, and my plans don’t really extend further than my upcoming trip to Puerto Rico that is part of my Huntingdon Plan. Instead of looking to the future, let’s look at the past. Over the past four years, we have learned so many things. Today we can look back at all the information we have absorbed, ranging from the steps in the enzymes responsible for DNA replication to how to read basic koine Greek. We’ve learned the themes in Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” and the implicit differentiation of a function. We now know the distinction between the number of particles in one mole of a substance and the power struggle between Mark Antony and Octavian over the Roman Empire.
As graduates of Huntingdon College, we are now officially educated members of society. But as you and I know, the things we learn in college extend well beyond the classroom. Here at Huntingdon College we have the unique opportunity to be involved in so many activities, organizations, athletics, and services. I feel like the most important things that I have learned are the things about me. When I was preparing this speech, honestly, I did not know what I should say. One of my favorite authors, John Piper once wrote, “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know.” I feel like that’s good advice, and I want to tell you some of the things that I now know about me. But first I want to tell you a story.
There was once a man who was preparing to go on an extended trip. Before he left, he called his employees together and delegated responsibilities to them. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, based on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first employee went to work and doubled the boss’ investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand carefully hid his cut of the money.
After a long absence, the boss of those three workers came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. The boss commended him: “Great work! You did your job well. From now on you’ll be a partner.”
The employee with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his superior’s investment. The boss commended him: “Way to go! You did your job well. From now on you too will be a partner.”
The employee given one thousand said, “Sir, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.”
The boss was furious. “That's a terrible way to live! It's stupid to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the money with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest. Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And fire this ‘play-it-safe’ who won't go out on a limb.”
Right off, I can see three things that the third employee did wrong, and I can see myself as employee number three throughout my four years at Huntingdon. First, he was afraid to fail. Life is full of choices. None of us is perfect; we all have shortcomings and failures. The third employee was so overcome with disappointing the boss that he froze and did nothing. “Sir, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you…” The fear of failure is one of the biggest fears that each and every one of us must overcome. Through my experiences at Huntingdon College, I have dealt with this issue. I enjoyed a prosperous freshman season on the basketball team, and followed it up my sophomore year with the worst season of my life. My self-confidence was gone. Fear dominated my mindset. I was more concerned with not messing up than with playing the game right. It took nearly an entire year to regain confidence in myself so that I could return to playing the game at the highest level I could play. I had to realize that who we are on the inside defines us as opposed to what we do. Actor John Travolta once said, “The thing you have to remember is that nobody else is paying as much attention to your failures as you are …to everyone else, it's just a blip on the radar screen, so just move on." The fear of failure will hold you back from doing what you want to do and being who you are.
The second mistake the last employee made is linked to his first. Because he was afraid to fail, he failed to act. The two other employees went to work and doubled the boss’ money. The third man just held on to the boss’ money and gave him back what he was given. He said, “…I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.” If getting the original money back was the end goal, why did the boss give him any money? Here we can learn that sitting by idly gets you nowhere in life. Thanks in part to Huntingdon College, I learned this lesson the hard way as well. I was the busiest student of all my senior year of high school. I had my hand in every club, committee, and event. It was exhausting. Coming to Huntingdon, my slate was wiped clean and I had little to no responsibilities outside of academics and athletics. After two years of just existing, I was unsatisfied with my college experience. I knew to fully appreciate my time at Huntingdon I had to get involved on campus. I had to meet new people—to make a difference. So I made an effort to get plugged in to campus life in various ways. This past November, I was so busy that I wanted to go back and slap myself for not enjoying those first two years more. Nevertheless, I have made friendships and memories that will last longer than the fatigue and weariness that I experienced making them. New York Times bestselling author and former world champion football coach Tony Dungy once wrote, “It’s about the journey—mine and yours—and the lives we can touch, the legacy we can leave, and the world we can change for the better.” To my fellow students, the faculty, staff, and administration of this school: I hope that I made as much of a difference on you as you did on me.
Lastly, after employee number three messed up and failed to act, he tried to make an excuse as to why he messed up; he failed to accept responsibility. He used his boss’ expectations as his excuse for why he was afraid to act and why he failed to even attempt at making a profit. We all do this. As the elder of two siblings, it did not take me long to learn how to point a finger at my younger brother and say, “It’s his fault!” I hate failure so badly that my first reaction is to blame someone else for my mistakes rather than own up to them. One thing I learned as an RA in the residence halls is that everybody has excuses or explanations to try to save themselves. The more excuses I am given as to why people let me down, the more it motivates me not to give excuses in my own failures. I feel that I have grown, and I try not to make a mistake worse by talking my way out of it. I have learned it is better to just accept it and fix it as best I can. A wise person once said, “Excuses are monuments of nothingness. They build bridges to nowhere. Those who use these tools of incompetence seldom become anything but nothing at all.”
For those of you who aren’t very familiar with the New Testament, the story above is a paraphrased, modern version of a parable told by Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 25. I love that parable and it motivates me to make the best of the gifts that I have been given. “When you don’t know what to do, do what you know.” I know that the things I have learned at Huntingdon College go above and beyond the classroom. I have learned from my fears; I have learned from my failures; and I have learned to take ownership of my actions and to not make excuses, even when it seems convenient. It is my hope and prayer for you today that you take what God has given you and you use it for His kingdom. Do not be afraid to act. Do not be afraid to fail. And most importantly, do not be afraid to take ownership of the two when you do. Today, as this chapter in our lives comes to an end, I hope you leave here a better person, that you are prepared to touch the lives of other people, to leave your own legacy, and to make the world a better place in doing so. Thank you and God bless.