Indiana High School Commencement Speech: You don’t need a plan; you just need to be present.

Calvin Robinson was chosen to give THE commencement speech for Zionsville High School (Indiana) this past weekend.  It was a platform for him to speak to his fellow classmates, family members, teachers, and community about his life experience up to this point…and Calvin chose to share about his Haiti trip to NVM.  Thank you Calvin for your permission to share this speech and thank you for wisdom imparted.

Today, on graduation of all days, you are going to be told you’re special. Whether it’s your grandma, your neighbor, or maybe the parent of a friend of a friend, we are in a season of our lives where we are going to be showered with praise, undoubtedly hearing that we are special and destined for “big things.” And I couldn’t agree more. But I’d like to give you a fresh perspective on just how special each of you are.

Today when you woke up, in all the bustle and commotion of preparing for graduation, if you could walk over to your sink and pour yourself a glass of clean water, you are very special. 783 million people, roughly 10% of the world, can’t do that.

If you woke up this morning and flipped a light switch, you are very special. 1.2 billion people, roughly 16% of the world population, can’t do that.

If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are very special. You’re richer than 75% of the world.

The very fact that you are with me today, celebrating the accomplishment of graduating high school, makes you very, very special. The average student in the world stopped attending school six years ago.

So, yes, each and every one of us is special. Even the most basic standards and privileges of living that we take for granted every day put us in the top percentage of the world.

This past spring break, I had the opportunity to go to Haiti on a mission trip through Nehemiah Vision Ministries. While I was there, I had the ability to contrast my life in Zionsville to the lives of Haitians who lived under the burdens of malnutrition and poverty every day.

During one of my days in the country, we walked to a local village named Chambrun to visit with the people there. As we walked into the village of assorted huts made of mud and trash, the faces of the villagers lit up with excitement.

For the next hour or so, we laughed and played and ran around with the children of the village. I will never forget the extent of the poverty that these kids lived under. Many of them were at least partially naked; one of the kids had a slingshot made of dental floss and plastic; another kid drank water from an old gasoline canister.

But what I remember even more vividly than their poverty is their joy. It didn’t matter that they were naked and dirty; they just had genuine fun.

Now, I don’t mean to inaccurately portray what life is like for the Haitians. Every day, those kids live under the miserable burden of food insecurity and poverty. But, if you’re like me, you’re led to ask yourself, “how can the poorest of the poor, in the worst of the worst conditions, still be genuinely happy?” I believe the answer lies in something the missions director of Nehemiah Vision told us on the first day we arrived in Haiti. He told us, “Haiti is all about relationships.” He went on to explain that the Haitian culture places a huge emphasis on relationships. In contrast to America, they place way less emphasis on a daily schedule. For example, if a Haitian worker is leaving his house to commute to his job but sees that his neighbor needs help fixing his roof, he’s willing to be an hour late to his job in order to help his neighbor and have a conversation with him. Simply put, Haitians put more stock in people than they do schedules. As said by the locals in Haiti, “Americans have all the watches, but we have all the time.”

For so much of high school, I’ve felt like I’ve been perpetually falling forward. I’ve been doing this homework up until I have to go to this activity and then I go grab a quick bite to eat until I have the next obligation and so on and so forth. In one way or another, I think we all fall into this trap of the daily routine. But in the words of Ferris Bueller, the quintessential high school senior, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” It isn’t the activities or the schedules or the accomplishments or the things that fulfill us and bring us joy. The children of Haiti didn’t need any of that to enjoy themselves. All they had to do was live their lives with others.

In Zionsville, we are indescribably blessed. Not only do we have the basic necessities, we have so much more. We’ve been given a top-of-the-line education with top-of-the-line teachers. ZCHS is the platform from which we are going to have a huge impact on the world. From the work force to the Ivy League to foreign countries, we’re all going in very different directions next year. We have been uniquely prepared to impact the world. But, as we work to improve the world in whatever capacity, let’s not forget to appreciate people like the Haitians do. Let’s not forget to be intentional and engage with our friends, our family, and even people we may not know. Interacting with other people, learning about other peoples’ stories and lives, that’s what makes us human. It’s easy to get caught up in ourselves. But our lives are more than a self-focused routine- they’re about impacting people.

In this season of our lives, it’s not uncommon to get overwhelmed with all this talk about the future and how we need to change the world. So, instead, I encourage you to take some advice from my favorite author, Bob Goff:

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  • serge m fontaine

    Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness says Hellen Keler. It is not achieve through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. While we are moving forward in life, we should always remember the participation of the person next to us to make it possible even if we do not know that person. We are all inter-related therefore, be kind and appreciative of one another; take the time to say please and thank you and the doors of opportunities will be open for all of us.

  • Yolande Jean Baptiste

    Very profound speech. This gentleman is wiser for his years. . He will go very far with his sense of humanity. God will guide him along the way.

  • Debbie Boone

    My husband and I have been on a mission trip to Haiti with NVM 2014 and we could not agree with you more!! Wise advise! Wonderful speech!! One to be taken wholeheartedly.

  • Debbie Boone

    My husband and I have been on a mission trip to Haiti with NVM 2014 and we could not agree with you more!! Wise advise! Wonderful speech!! One to be taken wholeheartedly.

  • Teri Toth-Fleischman, RN

    AMEN to that! I just returned from a Medical Missions trip to NVM in Haiti. I still can’t find the words to describe the feelings that it invoked. The night I got back to my house, I opened my shower door and saw the bottle of Dove’s body wash with “Clean and Comfortable” on the label. A flood of tears fell like rain as I realized that those I had met and treated in Haiti, Chambrun in particular, had no idea what clean or comfortable even means. Then I started to look around my house realizing that 90% of what I had, I truly didn’t need, and it became an overwhelming thought to pack it all up and send it there! I can’t look at anything without remembering the faces, smiling, happy faces I saw there. The joy in their hearts was palpable, and something I will never forget. I can’t wait to return, and I will. Our work may have been a drop in the bucket, but for those we helped, it meant the world!!

  • Pete Cox

    Amen! Such a wonderful reminder of how truly blessed we are just to live in the United States of America . As for me, I am ready to throw my watch away.

  • Amy russell

    Thank you for sharing this! It could have been written by one of my boys who also graduated this month after being in Haiti with nvm over spring break!