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Graham Van Schaik's Spring Valley High School commencement address

Fellow Vikings, Honored Guests, and Family Members - It is an honor and privilege to speak with you today as the Valedictorian of the graduating class of 2008.

As a graduating senior who is only 18 years old, I feel that I have very few things to share about what life is really like. At 18 years old, none of us truly knows what the world is like: we have not paid a long term mortgage, we have not served in combat, signed up for our own medical plan, or faced many of the challenges associated with adult life.

What I would like to share with you today is what I have been fortunate to have observed first hand to be what separates those who achieve from those who do not. Achievement comes, goals are met, records are broken, and awards are presented to those who ‘don’t expect’.

World class athletes, movie stars, Nobel Prize winners, and CEOs ‘don’t expect’. They don’t expect to make their foul shots without hours of practice on the court; they don’t expect to receive Oscars without weeks of immersion in their character roles; they don’t expect to earn Nobel Prizes without years of frustrating challenges in the lab; and they don’t expect to earn six or seven figure incomes without working far beyond 5 PM everyday and on weekends. They don’t expect greatness -- they expect to work for greatness. The world into which we are graduating extends far beyond Columbia, South Carolina, or even the United States. The globe is shrinking, and we would be naïve to think that our competitors are among only those graduating here today. The world we are entering into is a competitive one. Judgments will be made on the basis of merit alone; expectations will be inflexible and decisions will be final. What I hope to share with you is what I have seen that distinguishes between those who reach their goals and those who do not. It is only human to wish to attribute others’ successes to luck, an inside connection, or privilege; but from what I have seen, when we leave this coliseum today, what will separate those of us who will achieve what we want in life from those who will not can be summarized in two words: work and preparation. This January an international hero passed away. This hero attributed his own life success to work and preparation and is credited with extraordinary achievements in exploration and conservation. A beekeeper from New Zealand, he defied common expectations, his own teammates, and nature to conquer what the world said "could not be done" – to be the first to climb to the top of Mt. Everest. Work and preparation made the difference for this hero – Sir Edmund Hillary. We know of his record of being the first man to reach the summit of Everest, but few of us consider the less glamorous and more painstaking preparation that ensured his success. Sir Hillary climbed 11 different peaks of over 20,000 feet, approximately 4 miles, before he even considered scaling Everest. He joined reconnaissance expeditions around Everest in 1951 and again in 1952. For two full years, Sir Hillary studied the mountain, preparing himself both physically and mentally for the challenges he knew he would face. Sir Hillary succeeded where even his fellow explorers did not because he knew achievement comes through work and preparation – there are no shortcuts. In 1953, amid the howling winds and storms of Everest, Sir Hillary knew very well there would be no rescue helicopters, no CNN updates on his progress, no cell phone calls for advice, and no multi-million dollar sponsorships offered to him upon his descent. He did not expect greatness. When Sir Hillary finally reached the South Peak of Everest in May of 1953, he was one of only two climbers who remained from the larger initial expedition. The other climbers turned back. He and his climbing partner became the first humans to reach the summit of 29,028 feet, and then they accomplished the equally remarkable feat of successfully climbing back down. Work and preparation made the difference for Sir Edmund Hillary – and there are others. Tiger Woods could say the same – his work ethic is legendary. Every day, he wakes up at dawn to swing, hit, and miss however many times he needs to keep swinging and missing until he finally swings and makes the ball go where he wants it to go. His is the never-ending quest for perfection that is characterized by a never-ending work ethic.

Achievement has no short cuts - it is attained by hard work and preparation: Sir Edmund Hillary, Tiger Woods, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Michael Jordan, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, Jeff Gordan, Yo-Yo Ma, and any other individual who has achieved greatness – they all know that work and preparation are necessary for excellence. Today is our moment to share the joy of a beginning achievement. Graduating high school is something to celebrate, and this ceremony affords each of us a moment to stop and to question ourselves: What is important to me in life? What do I want from life? And the most important question: How hard am I willing to work to get there? That last question – How hard am I willing to work – is often forgotten. Yet this question, in my experience, defines a person’s character and predicts his or her future. I would like to conclude by sharing the insights of one final hardworking champion. Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, pushed his players to the edge. Each of them knew firsthand the pain and sacrifice of achieving a goal. And each of them also knew what it felt like to wear a Super Bowl ring and be a part of a legend. Like any champion, Lombardi himself knew and shared with his team, saying, "Everyone has the will to win, but very few have the will to prepare to win." His words resonate with the idea that we should all not expect greatness; we should expect to work for greatness. On behalf of my fellow graduates, I would like to formally thank the board and staff of Richland School District 2, Dr. Owings, and the teachers and administrators of Spring Valley High School, and our parents and extended families for their encouragement and support.

Congratulations, Spring Valley High School Class of 2008! We all leave here this morning with a high school education, potential, opportunity, and the personal choice for how hard we wish to work to earn successful futures. Thank you.

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