Last night we held commencement for the St. John's Episcopal School Class of 2015. I gave the following remarks as my charge to them:
When I had the good fortune to work with you a bit in class last year, I asked you to write moonshot essays. I hope you recall the notion of a moonshot vision—something really significant which others might deem impossible, but you believe it’s how you can change the world for the better. You had some amazing ideas, and I know you will have plenty more. In fact, we’re kind of counting on you to do so. I want to share with you three key things that can help you achieve a moonshot, whatever it might be. A simple chore. Cookies. Gratitude.
#1. Every morning, first thing, make your bed. No, your parents did not ask me to include this. You may be thinking what I thought at your age: Why do that when I’m just going to use it tonight? Here’s the reason, the only one that ever has made sense to me. Do that one easy thing, and you start the day with a victory. You’re 1-0, and you can build momentum. It’s also about responsibility and discipline. And how the little things can add up to big things.
#2. A few years ago, college researchers conducted an experiment replicated many times over. They broke students into three-person groups. One person was randomly appointed leader. Each group was put in a room and asked how to solve some difficult ethical problem, such as how to eliminate cheating or to broker world peace. Meanwhile, researchers observed them through a one-way window.
After thirty minutes, someone brought the group four freshly-baked cookies. Yes, four cookies for three people. Obviously each person got one cookie. But that left one cookie just sitting there temptingly, its delectable aroma wafting through the room. Awkward, right? Each person craving the cookie, yet pretending he or she was happy for others to have it. But it wasn’t awkward or hard to resolve at all. Because in almost every case, the leader grabbed the fourth cookie and ate it. More like devoured it with lip-smacking, drool-dripping, crumb-flying fervor. You know: in a way to emphasize who the leader was.
Now remember, this leader had been appointed randomly just 30 minutes earlier. His or her status was due entirely to luck. But evidently that was enough to make all of them assume they deserved the cookie rather automatically.
This ties to #3: Gratitude. I know you’re grateful to be sitting here as new graduates of St. John’s. I want to put that in some larger context for you—the context of luck. Without even being aware, you were appointed leaders of the group, and it happened before you were born. Without even buying a ticket, you won the genetic lottery. Here’s how. Current world population is just over 7.2 billion people. Just by the circumstances of birth, perhaps a couple other twists, each of you is in the top 5% of humankind in terms of wealth, health, security, and potential. That means out of a random group of 100 people your age, you got a big head start over 95 of them. Or, in total, over 6.85 billion of them. Quite good odds for success. Adding to this immediate advantage, you’ve had myriad opportunities—lessons, clubs, travel, whatever. Foremost among them: St. John’s. And if you think about it, that St. John’s even exists, let alone your getting to go to school here, has some luck involved. So practice gratitude and be sure to count your lucky stars.
Of course, luck doesn’t really matter if you don’t take jump at the opportunities it provides. You have thus far, and now you sit here, poised for the next phase of your lives. The big question: what is that going to be? I don’t mean summer plans or even high school. I hope St. John’s has challenged you to think about how you’re going to take all you’ve been blessed with and go out and make a positive impact. A successful moonshot. How you will do that is vitally important to ponder. You will continue to be faced with the extra cookie, probably dozens of them. At times you will earnestly believe you deserve it. Sometimes you just may truly have earned it. But you and the world will be better off if you make your bed, express gratitude, and always share the cookies.
Congratulations, Class of 2015. We will miss you, and I wish the best of luck on all your moonshots.