Generally, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to commencement addresses delivered by big shots to legions of fresh-faced graduates. To be honest, as far as my 1973 graduation from Miami University, frankly, I don’t even know if my fellow Redskins and I had anyone deliver an address back in those pre-Red Hawk days. Seems to me that it would have been part of that day’s ceremony, but for the life of me, if there were someone, I don’t know who it was nor do I remember any profundities that may have been articulated on that very warm June day, a day that, admittedly, wouldn’t have been quite so uncomfortable had I not misbehaved to the extent that I did the previous evening.
However, as we roll into yet another year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shortest commencement address ever delivered, one that lasted a mere 30 seconds by the former CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, Brian Dyson, to a class of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in September 1996.
I think when it comes to memorable utterances as the years go by, they become even more revered, in some cases, almost Bartlett’s Book of Familiar Quotations-worthy. So, during this time of making resolutions for the new year, I thought I’d give you Dyson’s message in the hope that it will perhaps provide a bit of guidance in what should be prioritized in the coming year.
Dyson’s entire speech was as follows:
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them — Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit — and you’re keeping all of these in the air.
“You will soon understand that Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But, the other four balls — Family, Health, Friends and Spirit — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for it. Work efficiently during office hours and leave on time. Give time to your family, friends and have proper rest. Value has a value only if its value is valued.”
Now, I’ve always been a sucker for a good metaphor, especially the ones that extend themselves logically and consistently, which Dyson’s certainly does. Of those five balls, indeed, only one is made of rubber.
To be honest, in the past, I’ve had some trouble expending too much time worrying about that work “ball,” especially during my teaching days, perhaps at the expense of some of the rest of the balls I was expected to juggle.
I think for all teachers whose fields are core subjects that there is the expectation that there should be a lot of unpaid overtime. Routinely, that meant for me taking home piles of paperwork that I assigned my guys and gals in the hopes I could get them to write with greater clarity, efficiency and mechanical exactitude.
And, while I generally feel pretty good about the career I left behind and my impact on my students’ development, I can’t help but wonder if there were times those other balls of which Dyson spoke got pretty scuffed up.
Now, as is the case with any life well lived, injecting balance in our lives is important. But, it is also sometimes difficult to do, because we are all wired a certain way when it comes to the amount of focus and attention we devote to our labors. Additionally, there are many, by the very nature of their jobs and/or the demanding bosses for whom they work who will struggle maintaining balance when it comes to following Dyson’s advice.
Despite what I won’t dispute as far as the veracity of the speech’s content, I do think the speaker overstated the damage to the other four balls by saying they will be “irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered.” That which is irrevocable can’t be changed. Yet, I think by striving each day to pay more attention to those balls that have been dropped in the past that we can remove some of those scuffs and repair those nicks. After all, there is such a thing as forgiveness.
So, for me, my 2013 resolution is to keep juggling those orbs but with more attention to the ones that don’t involve my work, the ones that reflect the faces of my friends and family especially. Heading into yet another year, for those of you who are fortunate to have a work ball, perhaps Dyson’s words are worth considering as well.