Student Voices: 2015 Graduate Speaker Matthew Shiflet

Ohio Connections Academy

high school graduate at podium

Good afternoon, everyone. Before I get started, I’d like to give a warm welcome to our distinguished guest Representative Andrew Brenner, as well as the present board members, faculty, and most importantly, the families that have helped us every step of the way.

Today, I have the great pleasure of speaking to each of you on the topic of our graduation, and I truly hope you take it to heart. But if you take little out of this speech, take these three phrases:

Be You. Change The World. Leave a Legacy.

These are the three goals I have for each and every one of us as we graduate from Ohio Connections Academy today. As we move into the real world I hope that we all continue to be ourselves, change the world, and leave behind legacies for generations to come.

But first, let’s think back to some of the great historical figures we spent countless hours learning about over the past few years. Think about George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. They stood for equality when their people received none. They fought for rights when they were denied them.

Think about Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They both dropped out of Harvard to pursue their dreams; one created Microsoft, the other founded Facebook. Despite how insensible their decisions may have seemed, they are both now multi-billionaires.

Think about Galileo and Copernicus. For both scientists, their life’s work was scorned and taken as false. It was considered blasphemy to believe what they proposed. Yet they shared their findings with the world.

What do all of these people have in common? All are wildly different, but they are all the same in at least a few aspects. I have noticed that each one of these figures made up their own minds, chased their own goals, and did what they wanted. They continued on their paths, despite what the world said or thought about and against them. They each channeled their unique abilities and desires to change the world. Though some have been gone for many years, their legacies continue to live on today.

In short, none of the figures above molded to how the world said they should live or act. One doesn’t change the world by fitting in and going with the flow. These figures and countless others all changed the world by standing out.

We can join these greats! We can reach levels of greatness in the future that we have until this day only dreamed of. Each and every one of you can go on to do great things, but just remember: Be You, Change The World, Leave A Legacy.

Be You. The world has an idea of what we should be. It has a mold that it wants us to assimilate into. It’s so rigid: do this, wear that, act like this, strive for that. But you can be different simply by breaking out of that predefined mold and being unique, because you are unique. There’s nobody else quite like you. Be who you want, not what somebody else wants you to be. Choose your path by your passion, not by the suggestions of another. Write your own story and tell your own unique tale with your unique life.

Realize your own potential as an individual and understand that you’re not just another worker in your field. You have purpose, you have potential, and you have worth.

Taking a line from one of Macklemore’s more inspirational songs titled Ten Thousand Hours, “I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea. I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential.” I see my potential, but do you see yours? Find it and unleash it. Only then will you truly become who you want to be.

Do not let anyone put you down or tell you what you can or cannot do simply based on your age. Do not let anyone try to tell you that you are somehow inferior simply because you are young. Instead, prove the naysayers wrong. Show them your talent and skill; set an example of what a successful young adult should look like.

Change The World. Much like the figures I mentioned earlier, change your part of the world through your differences, and through what makes you unique. In the words of Ghandi, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Whether you’re finding a cure for cancer, inventing safety measures for vehicles, or even creating a more efficient system for fast food restaurants, change the world in your own way, doing what you see fit and what holds meaning to you. If it’s important to you, chase it. Make it real, and make it happen. No matter how weird or unconventional it might sound, go for it.

Make your dream a reality. Cause the whimsical thoughts, dreams, and ideas that float around in your mind to become a tangible reality. The passion that comes with pursing a dream is what will change the world. Sure, you can slog through a career you don’t really like, but you’ll do your best to impress if it’s something you’re excited to wake up every morning and do. One of my life mottos is that I never want to work a day in my life, because I want to be happy to go to my job every day. If my occupation doesn’t bring me joy, then I have failed. If it feels like work, then it’s not worth my time. Take pride in your work, put your all into your work, and use your work to change the world. Leave behind a change that will affect future generations for the better.

Leave a Legacy. Be so instrumental in our world today that a legacy trails behind your name when it’s uttered a hundred years from now. Some will argue that leaving a legacy is not the point of life, and I would say you’re correct. It’s not all about glory; we shouldn’t necessarily focus on making ourselves remembered. Instead, if you do something meaningful with your life, the legacy will come naturally. It’s nothing you would try to earn, and there’s little you can do to stop it; it just happens as a byproduct of a productive life.

See, if you leave your mark on the world in whatever way you see fit, people will remember you. Strive for greatness, and reach for so much that the world can’t help but notice what you’re doing. Whether leaving a legacy feeds your drive or not, you should be working so hard that one arises in your wake anyway.

So what will you do from here? No matter what you do, make your life matter. Some of us will go straight into college, others will dive straight into the work force. Some of you will become stay-at-home parents with the world’s most important, meaningful, impactful, yet underrated job: raising the next generation of greats. Future homemakers, I thank you for this and hope you pass on a solid foundation of values to your children. For the first several years of their lives, you are the person they will learn the most from. Your children are your legacy; what you instill in them is the mark you leave on the world.

Some of you are off to the military, and for others, you might not even know what you’ll do just yet. But no matter what you decide to do, make your life matter. Make it meaningful and full of purpose and joy. Live like you’re dying, live on the edge, do life big, YOLO, or however you want to say it. Live for a purpose, no matter what your purpose is. Be You. Change The World. Leave a Legacy.

To close, I’d like to leave you with a quote from my favorite singer, songwriter, and musician, who is a role model and inspiration to me. His name is Adam Young, but you know him better as Owl City. One of his lesser known songs, Shooting Star, has been immensely important to me over the past few years. I’d like to share a fitting lyric from it with you today.

When the sun goes down, and the lights burn out, then it's time for you to shine, brighter than a shooting star, so shine no matter where you are.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ohio Connections Academy graduating class of 2015: the sun is going down, and the lights are burning out on our high school life and on our adolescence. But now it’s time for you to shine into the future. Shine brighter than a shooting star, because for us, not even the sky is the limit! You should shine no matter where you are, no matter what you do, and no matter who you become, but the true questions are these:

Where will you go? What will you do? Who will you become? You’ve got a lifetime ahead of you, so make it count. In time, you’ll find the answers.

Be You. Change The World. Leave a Legacy.