Adam Leitman Bailey Presents Commencement Address to New Milford High School’s 2008 Graduating Class
It’s good to be back home to the class of 2008. Parents, faculty, and anyone else here that participated in getting your loved ones to this tremendous achievement, I thank you for coming.
I am going to start with a quote, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to his or her commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor.”
The quote is from a man who taught it’s safe to say a high school in Englewood New Jersey a few miles away. Vince Lombardi later became the greatest high school coach, I’m sorry, professional coach in the history of professional sports, of course, football. Mr. Lombardi was correct, striving for greatness in anything is one of the most constant, continuing, satisfying, and fulfilling state of beings in anyone’s lifetime.
I have spent most of my adult life searching for the meaning of life. I’m a little crazy. I really went to bat on that. I read countless books, biographies, about people that were quote-on-quote great searching for the meaning of life. I have interviewed and work for and work with some of the greats, and now I come to the conclusion that striving for greatness, or what Mr. Lombardi calls a commitment to excellence, makes this ride called life a little bit richer or make that a lot richer.
In 1981, there was a survey of the ten most influential books, and Victor Franco, Dr. Victor Franco made it. He wrote a book called man’s search for meaning. He studied that, during the Holocaust, why did some people live longer than others. His conclusion was that those with a dream, those with a passion, those with a craft, or musical instrument, or a loved one that they may get to see after it all was done, they live longer than others in the same predicament and the same circumstances.
When you’re living your dream or trying to claim your dream, your life has purpose. Life feels better when you have goals and dreams that you can envision and work towards. It is empowering. It is a high. You are not going through the motions of life. You are seizing it. You are conquering it. You’re making life come alive. It gives you reason to want to get out of bed in the morning. I’m not only talking about doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers, nothing wrong with them. I am one of them, but too many people have failed at having a more satisfying life by going into a profession for the wrong reasons, whether it be because your parents told you to, or because you gave up your dreams because you didn’t want people to think you’re weird or crazy, or you went into it for the money because you thought it would make you rich.
I’ve never met anyone that’s made it, really made it because their goal was to go make a lot of money. It just simply doesn’t happen. I have nothing against money. Money is very good, but it’s not enough. It’s, and I’m not trying to put down money, not having to worry about money, or being able to afford food on your table is extremely important. But for you – Milford High School you want more, you want more out of life.
It’s a great joy when I visit my brother, Brett Bailey, also a graduate of the Milford High School, at his restaurant a couple of miles away at route 17. He takes such pride in greatness and managing that restaurant. I’ve never seen a place buzz like that one, and I watched them in person with a dissatisfied customer. I knew he wasn’t going to let them be dissatisfied by the end of that meal. We hear, and we watch the same passion from our teachers, mechanics, writers, engineers, architects, artists, you name it, anyone with a craft and a dream, any love, any dream, any art, any profession. As long as it is your passion, it is a winner. I love that I am able to live my dream. I thank God every day that I get to wake up in the morning, clap my hands together, and go and seize it, seize that greatness, seize that thing that we are striving for. I love the way that my eyes have a purpose in them like I’m going out every day to make this world a little bit better place, or at least in my mind. My adversaries I am sure would disagree.
I’m talking about you versus you. How hard can you push yourself to success? Michael Jordan calls it the zone. Someone else called it self-actualization. Others call it the vision thing. Whatever you call it, I call it striving for greatness. It’s a great pride that comes with that endeavor. I wish you the same satisfaction. I understand that this is the moment for you. This is one of those times in life where you’re either going to seize it and become great or not. This is the time that you will spring into action. This is the time you will realize your greatness. It may take some of you a little longer than others, but it’s really up to you. This is one of those things where all the doors are open, and it’s time for you to either seize it or not seize it. As long as you know today, this is one of your chances.
You’re getting a whole, commencement means beginning. Even though this is the ending, it’s also the beginning, the beginning of your new life. So how do you do it? It’s easy for me to talk and give this speech and talk about striving for greatness, but there’s no meat in that, right? What is the secret, as a new book calls it the recipe, the rules, the how to, whatever you want to call it?
Well here is my version of it. Number one, find out what you love to do. Make sure it is something you are really good at, or you can learn to be good at. I’m not good at much so it took a little while. Then set goals, and go after them. But that’s easy to say. Those are hyperboles, but really, really, really go after them. It takes hard work. It takes the endurance and relentless pain. If you need to suffer under relentless or relentless depending on which version my wife and I debated last night, incredible pain, we’ll put it simple, you can never ever give up. Things are going to get really difficult, if you’re trying hard. You will think you are a failure, and life will be really painful. But, among almost all successful people suffer greatly before achieving their goals. The key is to never stop believing in yourself. There will be times where you want to give up, or actually you want to end it all. You just got to remember that things do get better.
Winston Churchill says success is going from failure to failure with enthusiasm. Pearl Jam had a song called indifference. I was also debating is that before your time, after are, or are you still into it. The line still carries on, no matter how old, or if you were born whenever or if you knew who they were or not. It, “I will keep taking their punches until their will grows tired.”
As a sophomore, Michael Jordan was cut from the basketball team at Laney High School in Wilmington, North Carolina. I want to read a quote from what Michael Jordan said. I was with his agent David Clarke a few weeks ago. We were discussing this story, and this is where I got the idea to Google and get the exact quote. “Whenever I was working out and got tired,” This is Michael Jordan. “…and figured I ought to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list in the locker room without my name on it, and that usually got me going again.” He took the pain. He turned it around, and he made it obviously as you know into victory.
Abraham Lincoln you would consider pretty much a loser up until the time he actually put this nation back together. He had lost and had not been nominated for seven elections. He had a nervous breakdown by the time he was your age. We found that almost everything he touched, but he never stopped trying, never stopped going and going.
But it’s hard to relate for someone at six foot six in Kentucky. It’s hard to relate to someone that was living 150 years ago. So how about 21 years ago, last May, a few miles in Milford, New Jersey, me? Almost to the day last month 21 years ago, I had been a passenger in a major car accident. We were charting off of Washington Avenue on our way to a party. My friend was driving. No one was drinking, and we’re heading down the hill. We hit a wall. It was actually a bank’s brick wall. My head, if you look at the side of my head you can see stitches, went through the window on the right-hand side. I was in a coma. I woke up. I woke up. I had many broken bones. I lived for my doctors to come to me and tell me that I was going to have to drop my classes my senior year, some of them, especially the honors ones. I would not, I was not going to college anymore and that I permanent brain damage. Things were not going to be the same as they were before that day in May of 1987. But I return to Milford, as coach said, I thought I was tough, I learned that I wasn’t a couple of years later. So one day at a time, I recovered. I believed in myself, and I learned that no brain damage would keep me out of college. That no college class would be too difficult to get an A. That no college would be too difficult to graduate with honors in the top 10% of my class, and then no law school be too difficult to attend and to graduate with honors, and then no bar exam, and this was a real tough one, it’s a timed exam which is your entrance into becoming a lawyer, that did not get in my way thank God.
So no longer can any of you or anybody else in the world tell me that I wasn’t going to become a top attorney, and no one was going to tell me that any case was too difficult to win. No longer could anyone tell me that starting my own law firm was too risky that I should just either become a teacher or go ahead working for other firms.
So now it is your turn. What are your limits? No one can tell you that you cannot do the impossible. No one can tell you not to pursue your wildest, most fantastic dreams. No one can tell you that you cannot change the world to benefit mankind. You can be as great as you desire to be. I learned how to strive for greatness through much pain. You have one life. Life is so much more worthwhile when you spend them spend much of it reaching, enduring, and working in an attempt to be great, to be the greatest, striving to be the greatest and to have fun doing so. So each day, if you do not go to sleep until you’ve given 100%, you will be a winner and one of the greatest.
To the class of 2008, I congratulate you. Go out there and celebrate, be meaningful, have fun, and may all your dreams come true. Thank you very much [Applause]