Put your best feet forward

As difficult as it is to believe, for the first time since last year I was not asked to speak to a group of graduating seniors during their commencement excercises. I can’t imagine how this keeps happening. The only possible explanation for this oversight is that everyone who is in charge of lining up speakers at the local schools probably believes it would be a waste of time to ask me. They must figure I’ve got commitments up to my nostril hairs, and wouldn’t be interested in helping to bore the pants off the future generation of leaders at their graduation ceremonies. Well, for your information Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. school official, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m well aware that the fate of our great nation (America) will one day rest squarely on the tattooed shoulders of the young people of today, and I am always prepared to do my part to see that they realize how important they are to the rest of us. I want them to know that if they don’t work hard and lead responsible, productive lives there will be no one to pay the social security I plan to start collecting in twenty-five years or so. It also worries me that our children graduate from high school with barely a fraction of the knowledge they need to navigate their lives, and the commencement speech is one last chance at teaching them something before they are turned loose on the world. I’ve always wanted a shot at that job. I suppose I was inspired by the man who spoke at my own graduation, who made such an impression that I don’t even remember who he was. If I had been invited to address a group of graduates this year, this is what I would have said: Good evening (or morning, or afternoon) ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be your commencement speaker today. Please try to stay awake. Graduating from high school is truly a milestone in your lives. Up to now many of your decisions have been made for you by your parents, teachers, guidance counselors, parole officers, boyfriends, girlfriends, or other important people. As of now that will change. From now on you will have the honor and responsibility to decide for yourself how you will act, what you will contribute to society, and whether or not to eat a banana split before supper. The decisions you make will determine where you live, how much money you make, what kind of car you drive, who your friends are, and how happy you will be. Some decisions will be more important than others, such as who you will marry, and which attorney you hire to represent you in court. One of the biggest decisions you will make will be your choice of a role model for your life. Celebrities such as politicians, actors, sports figures, and yes, newspaper columnists, are often put on a pedestal as examples to follow. Some of these people are good examples and some of them are bad ones, and who you decide to emulate can make a big difference in your life. Roy Benevidez, for instance, was a man to look up to. Roy was a real hero. He purposely and knowingly risked his life several times to save others during the war in Vietnam, and never gave it a second thought. Benevidez died in El Campo, Texas in December 1998, and was honered as one of America’s finest by those aware of his accomplishments. And you’ve probably never heard of him, because he never scored forty points in an NBA basketball game or hit a home run in a World Series. My point is that famous people can be good role models, but there is probably someone closer to you, someone you know personally, who would make a better one. After watching the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’ I visited my friends J. B. and Dwan Lewis, of Brady, Texas. J. B. was in the first wave of American soldiers that hit Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944. He’s a quiet, non-televised hero who would make a good role model for anyone. People like J. B. are often overlooked, although they have a great deal to offer as examples. And then there’s my son, Paden, who was born in 1993 with a birth defect called ‘club feet.’ Troy Aikman had the same problem, but not as seriously as Paden does. About one child in a thousand is born with club feet, which causes the feet to be turned inward and deformed. Of these, about one percent require surgery to correct. Most, such as Aikman’s, can be corrected with casts or braces. Of the cases requiring surgery, about one percent have to have a second operation. Paden has had surgery on his feet twice, once when he was seven months old, and again when he was two and a half. If I ever buy a lottery ticket, I’ll get Paden to pick the numbers for me. Paden had been walking for a long time when he had his second operation, so when he woke up with casts from his toes to his hips, leaving his knees bent at a 45 degree angle, he wasn’t a happy camper. The doctor told us he would be able to drag himself around on the floor, and would get used to it. Within a week, however, Paden was pulling himself up on the furniture, balancing on the toes of his casts, and walking around looking like a hockey goalie. He wore the toes of the casts out, and we had to go to the local clinic and have more fiberglass applied. He had three steel pins in each foot, and his walking caused one of them to work its way out to the point where it stuck out the toe of the cast, and had to be pulled out. Things that hurt were ‘owie,’ and Paden stood more than his share of pain. Once, when he was walking on the casts, my mother asked him if walking hurt his feet. He nodded and said, ‘Owie. Walk anyway.’ Whenever I get discouraged I think about Paden walking around in those casts, wincing and laughing at the same time. Although we were told that Paden would never be able to play football or run track, he has the determination to do whatever he wants, and is as active and cheerful as any seven-year-old. Inspiration sometimes comes from unexpected sources, and if you look around you can usually find someone to look up to. You may not even have to leave home. Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist with three normal, healthy sons. Write to him at P.O. Box 564, Mason, Texas 76856 or hemphill@ctesc.net

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