Graduation Speech— “Four Keys to Success”

Graduation Speech— “Four Keys to Success”


GraduationsI’ve been to over fifty and gave a few high school speeches. Many years ago, I gave the “Four Keys” speech. Here is the scene, as I remember it.

A small rural high school. It took longer to drive from home to the school and back than the ceremony itself. Not wanting to go that distance by myself, I invited my family to go with me (my wife and four kids).

I sensed little enthusiasm for this trip. So using one of the politicians’ favorite techniquesthe quid pro quo (they call it the “pay-off”), I made the case: “We won’t be there more than two hours and if they pay me, I will take you to dinner and a movie.” They bought it.

We loaded the four kids into our station wagon (pre-SUV) and off we went with snacks and games. By unanimous decision, they decided to remain in the car during my speech. At that time there were no iPads, iPhonesno Internet. They read a book. They talked to one another. They played games. One of our favorite car games is what we called “What is it? Who is it?”one of our strategies to get the kids into the news of the day.

I gave my twenty-minute speech. In less than two hours, I‘m walking through the parking lot and I hear this loud voice yelling from our car, “Did they pay you?” I smiled, held the envelope overhead and waved it, and off we went to eat and see a movie.

I still have the “Four Keys to Success” speech because I got it published. So, absent of some really relevant stories and a few pithy quotes that I used in the speech, let me outline what I told the students about the “Four Keys to Success”competence, values, teaching, and responsibility.

I defined each starting with competence. I offered them a few examples suggesting that competence in somethingin athletics, in academics, in arts and music, in mechanics, a good start on the road to being successful.

I pointed out that in the real world competence is not enough. It has to be complimented and underscored by values (today we call these virtues and character strengths). I talk about trust, compassion, and courage. I told the students that a life worth living is built around positive relationships.

I shared this quote with them and recommended that they start off each day with the “I WILL’s.”

I will do the best I can today!

I will treat people as I want to be treated!

I will contribute to the groups that I belong to!

I followed with a description of the remaining two keysteaching and responsibility. I noted that they will find out in the course of their lives that they will be teachers (modeling)what they say, teaches; what they do, teaches; how they interact with others, teaches.

Then I explored the idea of responsibility (respect is implied) noting the three PsPersonal responsibility, Professional responsibility, Public responsibility. I defined each one with a short story or an example. I suggested that successful people carry out their responsibilities by getting involved in thingsby volunteering, by teaching others, by donating their time and talent to help others in their community and among their friends. I offered this quote:

“This is success: to be able to carry money without spending it; to be able to bear an injustice without retaliation; to be able to keep on the job until it is finished; to be able to do one’s duty even when one is not watched; to be able to accept criticism without letting it whip you.”

 I ended the speech by saying: “On the key chain that you will carry around with you after today, remember that there are at least four keys on it that will open up doors or start your engines—they are competence, values, teaching, and responsibility. I wish each of you a great deal of success.”

Now it’s June 2017 and I have been introduced to new ideas about what success is all about by reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

She writes about finding one’s potential at school, in the family, and in one’s profession. She said in a recent interview:

A fixed mindset is when people believe their basic qualities, their intelligence, their talents, their abilities, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount, and that’s that. But other people have a growth mindset. They believe that even basic talents and abilities can be developed over time through experience, mentorship, and so on. And these are the people who go for it. They’re not always worried about how smart they are, how they’ll look, what a mistake will mean. They challenge themselves and grow.”

Great stuff to add to each student’s key chain.

 Success can lead to the greatest failure, which is arrogance and pride.

Failure can lead to the greatest success, which is humility and learning.

– David Brooks, NYT Columnist


See my full speech here:




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