Leaving this guy for the weekend so I had to get my fix of snuggles.
Happy Graduation Day!! That kind of enthusiasm might be a little much considering I don’t have a graduating senior yet or even know a graduating senior. But, I’m excited for a different reason. My amazingly talented husband has been asked to write & give the commencement speech at his high school this year. He’s allowed me to share it with you all. Have a wonderful weekend!
2014 PVHS Graduation: Keynote Speech
As the school’s AP Language & Composition teacher I dissect speeches with my students all year long. Together, we become archeologists of the written word – examining the strategies speakers use to engage with, to appeal to, and to subtly manipulate their audiences. We sift through the rubble of pages, paragraphs, and sentences, in search of patterns, purposes, and techniques.
I am telling you this as a disclaimer.
You see, I enjoy analyzing others’ work. I find pleasure in dissecting the words of famous orators in order to understand how they build their arguments. However, analysis is much different than creation and deconstruction is the opposite of invention.
Speech writing is an excruciating task for me. I agonize about sharing my thoughts with any group of people, but this is by far the largest audience I will ever face. As a result, this is the most physically ill I have been in my 11 year teaching career. It is also, without a doubt, the highest honor I have received as an educator. I possess an immense amount of gratitude in my heart for this group of students and I am truly honored to be here, with you, today. Thank you, class of 2014, for giving me this gut-wrenching gift.
Let me begin by telling you how disappointed I was, 6 years ago. I was a finalist for the keynote speaker at the first graduation ceremony, however I was not chosen to give the speech. Back then, I desperately wanted to earn the opportunity to speak at graduation, despite not knowing what it was I wanted to say. Looking back, I’m sure that my speech would have been filled with fluffy anecdotes and cheery metaphors that loosely related to the concept of graduation. I would not have given that group of graduates the presence at the podium that they deserved. In the past 6 years I have gained the gift of perspective. I know now, what I want to say. I own my words and I am confident in my message. I am the perfect speaker for this class, for this year, and speaking from this point in my life.
I have had two Davids make a substantial impact on my life. They have lived decades apart from one and other, but they have collectively shaped me more than any one person ever has. I met David Oulman, my father, when I was born (on May 1, 1980). I met David Oulman, my son, at his birth (on July 23, 2013). Between these two events is a 33 year span of my life. It has been a good life, overall. I have been blessed with quality friends. I have been lucky in love. I have been supported, at every turn, by my family. I have laughed far more often than I have cried.
My father was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He flew airplanes and helicopters, restored vintage pickups, and played board games with his kids every weekend. He also loved my mother unconditionally and unabashedly. He had a smile on his face every day of his life. He taught me how to swing a golf club, how to make others laugh, how to kick a soccer ball, how to build a campfire, how to aim a rifle, and how to remain positive in the toughest of situations. My father was my hero. He had the strength and speed of Superman, the honor and integrity of Batman, and the wild and unruly sideburns of Wolverine. He was too big, too strong to die. But, one spring morning my superhero father had a heart attack. He died at the age of 47. I was 11 then and the script that my life had been following was instantly altered.
I grew up. I got married, and when my wife and I decided to have children, the name at the top of our list for boys was etched in stone: David. To me, this was more than a name. It was my chance to honor my father by giving a boy I hoped to mold into a man the same name as the man who shaped me into who I was.
My son’s name is David. However, the decision to name him that was more difficult than I had ever imagined it would be. You see, before David’s birth we were informed that he had a condition termed Trisomy Twenty-One, also known as Down Syndrome. In the midst of processing this news, I realized someplace inside of myself I had begun to question whether or not he should be named David. I am ashamed to share this honest truth, but I had created impossibly high-hopes for the boy who inherited that name. I had a specific vision of what our life together would look like and all of the things I would teach him, just as my father had taught me. I didn’t know if this new reality of my son could be everything I had long hoped for. Simply put, he no longer fit into the script I had written for my life.
I had mistaken the sound of the name for the meaning of the name. It is a name that represents the love, spirit, and vitality that my father lived with. Thankfully, my son perfectly embodies those qualities and in doing so he has altered my perspective on life. David has encountered numerous health issues throughout his short lifespan. While living a significant portion of his days in the hospital, David has undergone countless procedures, surgeries, and exams. But his smile is as bold and beautiful as it was when he was born. He has yet to learn how to crawl, but he has taught me that any amount of disheartening statistics is no match for a sweet heart and loving attitude. I had always thought that I would mold and shape my son, but my 9 month old son is molding and shaping me into a better man.
Graduates, the point is this: there is a beauty within the alterations and adjustments that must be made to the script each life follows. Today is your day to celebrate the beginning of a new dimension to your script. But remember, you are all a work in progress. You are all going to have successes and failures scattered throughout your life. The path you have imagined for your life will be jostled and jagged at times. It is inevitable. You are all going to evolve into something substantially different than the people you are today. Our hope, as an institution and collection of professional educators, is that we have properly prepared you to deal with the relentless rigors and the ever-evolving script of life. The real world is an extremely tough test and there is no answer key or opportunity for extra credit.
I have collected a few simple Dos and Don’ts to help you navigate the rough waters of life:
• Do recognize that momentary hardships can create everlasting character.
• Don’t be afraid of adversity.
• Do allow yourself to accept help from others and be willing to offer to help others as often as you can.
• Don’t constantly nitpick and negotiate.
• Do think for yourself.
• Don’t forget to analyze the life you have been given to live.
• Do learn from your mistakes.
• Don’t get distracted by your defeats.
• Do meet, accept, and defeat challenges.
• Don’t become discouraged or disheartened by difficulties.
• Do take pride in the effort you give the things you have control of in life.
• Don’t be afraid to celebrate the flaws in your life.
• Do enjoy the ride.
• Don’t live your life by a predetermined script.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “good and bad are but names, very readily transferable to that or this.” What I believe he meant with this statement is that we all have control over labeling what you consider to be the “good” and the “bad” in your life. Try your best to concern yourselves with what you believe to be “good” and your life will be something that you can be proud of. Don’t worry about the opinions or critiques of those who do not know what you value in your heart.
The only opinion that matters is your own.
In conclusion, I sincerely wish each and every one of you luck on your journeys. Again, it is my distinct honor to share this stage with you today and I will forever remember this day, with you, the Prairie View High School graduating class of 2014!
This week I’ve been trying to decide if being scared is a warning sign or if it breeds anticipation and ultimately success. I’m willing to guess anyone who took a huge risk felt nervous, but hopefully the payoff was worth it. It’s always anyone’s guess if something is going to be successful, and isn’t success 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? I think I have the idea. I know I have the passion. So now where do I go? What takes an idea from inception to success? It’s not for lack of creativity, or even lack of passion, both of which I have. But now everyone else needs to see it too. Other people need to help me be successful. So really, it always takes a village. I have a plan and ultimately a goal. So, here goes nothing.
Lessons from My Granddaughter
Hi, David and The Giant readers. Let me introduce myself; as a guest writer today, I’m Steve, affectionately known as “Pops,” father of the David and The Giant blog author, and grandfather to the subjects of so much loving attention: Ella and David. I think I’ll title this intro editorial, “Lessons from My Granddaughter.”
About a year ago I decided to make a move to Colorado following nearly 30 years in Arizona: family raised; old chapters of life closing and new chapters being written, I thought it was the time in life to move a little closer to the next family generation. So, I located about 70 miles south of the kids in Denver, CO to reside in Colorado Springs. Home is where you hang your hat! You know, I didn’t want the young family thinking I would be in their driveway every afternoon, yet close enough to be available at that drop of the hat! I’ve got to say the hat drops often . . . and I love it!
In today’s personal communiqué I receive a text message, email or voicemail inquiring, “Hey Pops, would you be available to watch the kids [grandkids] this ???? day or night?”
Of course, as I always eagerly adjust my schedule to make the quick hour trip by the memorized highway mile markers, I realize I’ve become that traditional figure of the patriarch presence. Along the way there’s always been a my time: my time to be in college, my time to be a young father, my time to develop a career, my time to encourage the family – college, leaving home, dating and marriage and families of their own; and now, my time to be a grandfather! Life is such a joy!
This is also my time to memorialize this chapter in my/their life. I love it! So, even as David and The Giant have become a family focus, the deepening experiences with Ella have also become giant milestones. I really wanted to title this post, “This Doesn’t Belong To You,” as I learned lessons from Ella last month: catching and savoring the appreciation of its interpretation.
With baby David back in the Children’s Hospital frequently this winter and the young parent’s schedules demanding, I was invited again pick up Ella from Day Care, be the overseer of the household early in the evening, stay the night to help with schedules in the morning and visit David at Children’s Hospital the following day.
So, with some after school suggestions from mom [and Ella] I took my part as grandpa . . . doing a little cleaning around the kitchen, playing in the back yard, playing with [pushing] the back yard swing to “go higher Pops,” and planning the gourmet Mac N’ Cheese dinner – actually snooping to see what mom had planned cooking in the slow cooker – I decided to look in the freezer before dinner to see if there remained any of the small ice cream Dixie Cups [which I purchased for Ella on a previous trip] and make a treat suggestion following the Mac N’ Cheese main course. When I found a couple of them left in the freezer, I was faced with a bold and quick, “Those Don’t Belong To You Pops!” Laughing silently almost uncontrollably, I was reminded of those traditional possessive or [territorial] traits inherent in a 3 year old. I’m sure you can relate. Those things important would be listed as her room, her clothes, her friends, her toys, her mom and dad . . . and yes, her ice cream Dixie Cups! But, more personal to me – before the visit and trip was over the next day – “her Pops!”
Both mom and dad had early morning obligations, practically before the day broke, leaving Pops and Ella to follow some written instructions before making the trek back the Day Care in the morning. BUT, we decided to break from tradition [and instructions] and partake with a little spontaneity: an impulsive and memorable experience of dining out, or I should say dining in, for breakfast at McDonald’s! What a way to start the day: pancakes and syrup, sticky fingers and bare feet in the play area. WOW!
It must have been that several young families had the same idea that morning! The counter lobby at McDonalds was crowded . . . I mean “standing room only” with parents and kids about 7:30- 8:00AM. And, as we stood waiting patiently to order our breakfasts, pressed among strangers and personalities, Ella fidgeted at my feet – in sort of a determined sort of way – in that hugging my leg tightly, or firmly grabbing the denim seam in leg of my blue jeans, to pressing tightly against me in the sight of those crowded strangers! Was she wanting/needing protection and security or was she protecting me, I thought, as the exercise became fairly intense . . . but then of course Ella is generally intense – LOL! Soon I got my answer . . .
Looking up and staring me right in the face, there was a determined and affectionate, “Could You Hold Me Pops!” So, I picked her up and held her in my arms; we would be the next in line to order. It wasn’t the expected gesture of putting her little head on my shoulder and neck to hide from the quick study of the nervous lobby reality. NO! She chose rather to position herself with a half turn to the crowd, almost a power position, staring into the eyes of her would be saboteurs! NO! She had actually elevated her position . . . and I knew her defense: “He doesn’t belong to you! He’s my Pops!”
To “dine in,” . . . she chose McDonald’s pancakes and syrup, chocolate milk, parfait and miniature cinnamon sticky buns . . . Pops, got just an Egg McMuffin and a small cup of coffee!
As we sat at a quiet little table in the play area, I could see her side of the table covered with her assorted and abundant breakfast as she gazed, fixing her eyes, on at my lonely cup of coffee and Egg McMuffin. “Those don’t belong to you,” I said. LOL! Turnabout Is Fair Play! Her quick smile, smirking little grin and purposed little laugh let me know she knew she’d been caught in the cross fire . . . LOL!
In a few minutes and it was time to go. “Can I get some cookies for my friends at Day Care, Pops,” she asked? “Of course Ella,” I said, “cookies for friends belong to them.” What a fun trip! And just think, Pops is only 70 miles away!!
Today, I’d like to thank Ella for the lesson! When I put my arms around Ella and David, I’d like to say to all of the other unrelated grandparents out there, “They don’t belong to you!” Nope! They’re mine!
I know it’s just where I belong . . .
I’ve been quiet on my blog this week, but the social media community has been anything but. Just over a week ago, life was forever changed for a young family in Orange County, California. Their son Ryan, was just a few months younger than Ella. After a fun day at Disneyland, he was visiting other family & chased a frisbee into the street. He was hit by a car and passed away.
I often tell my clients that pain is a ladder. Your highest wrung is your highest wrung. No one should compare or feel guilty when encountering someone else on a higher wrung. But, the exception has to be with the loss of a child. No matter where you are or the pain you’re experiencing in your life there is nothing more painful than losing a child. Of course I don’t have first-hand experience, but that terrible day back in August where we came close to losing David gave me a tiny glimpse into the terror, helplessness and overwhelming grief that these parents have to be experiencing.
In the past week, the family’s story has gone viral. I’ve seen it on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter & the news. The outpouring of the love and support is literally overwhelming. But that’s my interpretation. I have no idea how they are feeling or their response to any of this. I do know what it’s like to feel supported during the roughest season of your life. One simple act can go a long way. Feeling like you’re not alone can ease a portion of the pain.
So I encourage you to help support this family. Search for #redballoonsforryan on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Etsy, etc. There are many, many people who are donating, giving and contributing. This is one of those times when I can say that social media is truly a good thing. The message is out and people are coming together. Give, donate, pray. Whatever is in your ability. Let’s lift this family up and walk with them on their journey.