A Commencement Memory

Last year, Legacy’s Edward Hyde spoke to the 2018 graduates at his high school alma mater, Barbourville Independent. In honor of today’s graduates, let’s revisit his address.

Thank you, Superintendent Dixon, faculty, distinguished guests, parents, my former classmates and friends—and especially the class of 2018.

Thanks for this honor. I’m excited to be back at Barbourville Independent School. I was just telling my wife, Karen, that I was looking forward to my visit with you today so I could reminisce about being a dedicated student here. Her response took me by surprise. She said: “Does that accurately describe your high school experience?” Then she reminded me about a symbolic keepsake I received when I graduated exactly 30 years ago this month: A laminated tardy slip.

I had to admit she was right. Other than today, I’m not sure I’ve ever been on time to anything happening at this school. She was also right about something else. She reminded me that this day is about you—the class of 2018—and your accomplishments. Listening to me ramble too long would be a distraction from that. So with that advice, here goes:

Congratulations, students. You will soon collect your diplomas and leave this school that, if you’re like I was at your age, has been your second home for most of your life. I’ve been right where you are now…except your facilities are much newer and modern. A lot of us here today are literally from the old school that had one, maybe two school buses, no air conditioning, and one coal burning furnace that couldn’t heat the school when it got too cold. We rarely missed a day of school when it snowed, so we kept our fingers crossed for frigid temperatures. But that’s all changed now. Enrollment is high compared to my day. Plus, you have this incredible new gym and impressive, modern facilities that line School Street. You should be proud. I know I am.

So you’re about to leave this warm and wonderful home to discover your future. And that can be scary. But trust me—you’ll be fine. That’s because you’re Tigers…from the little school…and that is truly special. It’s academically rigorous and has prepared you for practically anything. You are about to be alumni in a group represented by people who hold public office; who preside over courtrooms; who own their own businesses; who serve their country; who treat and care for the sick; who educate and nurture minds like yours. The list goes on. But these people? They’re not successful just because our school’s academics are top-notch (which they are). They’re successful also because of the things that can’t be measured by test scores. Things like relationships you can only develop in an environment like this. It’s small and meaningful and supportive. It’s a family that spans several generations, and we’re all proud to be part of it.

Even though you’ll physically be somewhere else, this school will remain part of you. The lessons you’ve learned here—those in the classroom as well as in your social lives—are now part of your identity. These lessons have been good ones. That’s been my experience, and the experience of my sister, class of 1986; my mother, class of 1967; my grandfather, class of 1934; my grandmother, class of 1933; and many, many others in my family. Just like cotton, Barbourville High School is the fabric of our lives.

And speaking of fabric, I have a few pieces of advice I hope you’ll consider as you commence with life beyond high school. It begins with a story from my high school years I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I’ve enjoyed reliving it. The fabric of focus? Denim. Since it happened around 1987, it’s safe to assume the denim was acid washed.

Here’s what happened:

I was a student about your age in the old school building…which remember…had no air conditioning. It was scorching hot at the first of the school year, and the dress code excluded shorts of any kind. Skirts, however, were fine. And denim mini skirts were pretty popular. Normally that wouldn’t have bothered me. I didn’t have a problem with skirts of any kind. But these circumstances were a little different. So a few of my friends and I got together and asked the principal to consider allowing us to wear long shorts, since the girls were permitted to wear their short skirts. Sounds reasonable, right? Despite our best efforts, we were shot down. No shorts. Period.

So the next day, we wore skirts to school.

And then dress code changed, after all. And if you want a good laugh, dig through some old yearbooks for some photographic evidence.

With this story in mind, I’ve compiled a list of five things I’ve always considered important and hope you will, too, as you start your new life chapter, whatever that may be. These are simple things that aren’t new concepts at all. They’re merely reminders of things I’ve found particularly useful in my life. I think you’ll find each one is universal in helping you succeed in anything you decided to do, whenever you decide to do it.

No. 1

If I hadn’t had a group of friends help me make our point by wearing skirts that day, I’d have been a random guy walking down the halls in a mullet and an acid washed mini skirt. And that would’ve just been weird. Likewise, I could never have built my company without the brilliant people who help me run it every day. The successes I’ve gotten credit for are a direct result of surrounding myself with the most talented people I can find. My team deserves the credit far more than I do.

No. 2

Think about integrity and its definition for a moment: It’s the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. If you have integrity, you’re dedicated to fairness and sincerity. You don’t lie, and you don’t cheat people. You do what’s right in your moral code, and you’re unwavering.

Wearing that skirt wasn’t about making people mad (even though, to be fair, it might have). And it wasn’t about rebellion to mock authority or incite poor behavior. It was about making a point that we believed in. We were standing together in good character, in the interest of fairness, in an honest display.

Today, my integrity remains my most valued asset, and I protect it fiercely. I’m car guy, after all. Can you think of a profession more associated with dishonesty and corruption than car sales? It’s a stereotype I’ve fought my entire life, and probably always will. But one thing is certain: People know if you’re honest and if your decisions are fair and benefit those you serve. When I figuratively “wear my skirt” at work today, I’m going to bat for people who deserve it. I’m constantly trying to do what’s right by being truthful to both myself and others. Those on my team share this integrity. If they don’t, they’re not allowed to be on my team.

As you build your team, I encourage you only to accept those who believe in the importance of integrity—those who will protect it, respect it and demonstrate it.

No. 3

That’s what we had when we wore skirts that day. In other words, we weren’t giving up. We wanted that dress code changed, so we persevered. It didn’t require talent for us to play dress up for a good cause. But it did require passionate perseverance. If we’d gotten suspended, well, our next tactic might’ve been a little less controversial for the time. We’ll never know. But I’d like to think we wouldn’t have given up. I’d like to think our grit would’ve inspired us to pass the torch to the next group of seniors to try again the next year. Who knows?

But my point is, to be unusually successful, grit is necessary. You will suffer failures, or at least I hope you do. Because if you never fail, you’re not really trying. Failure isn’t the problem. Refusing to keep trying—that’s the problem.

There are better business minds than mine out there—people with more talent than I have. But what I do have is a “never give up” attitude with a constant drive to improve.

No. 4

Serve others in a meaningful way to help them succeed. You have many gifts to share, whether you realize it or not. So do what you can to make a difference so those you help will be in a position to give back, too. Back in high school, my buddies and I gave our friends the gift of a new dress code, and we hopefully gave the gift of laughter to the entire school. But that’s trivial stuff compared to what you can do. You could donate your time, your talents, your money—or even an organ or your stem cells. My mother’s life was recently saved by a stem cell donor. We know only that her donor was a 25-year-old male from the United States. And… he has a servant’s heart that has changed our lives forever. He empowered my mother to fight an ugly disease, and this has given us all much-needed strength.

So I urge you to support your community, church or favorite charity or organization. It’s good for the soul. I can promise you’ll never regret serving others.

And finally, we’ve reached the final piece of advice.

No. 5

School may be out, but education never stops. If you stop learning, the world will pass you by. Wearing a skirt once long ago doesn’t qualify me as an expert on lifelong learning. But I can tell you this: Since then, I have learned many ways to get things done without theatrics. I actually prefer the quiet approach now. It’s much more efficient and you don’t make anyone mad. To be fair, I should add I didn’t learn this from studying. Experience taught me. You can learn a lot from experience, but some things you just flat-out have to study for.

Part of my daily routine is studying digital marketing and advertising trends that didn’t exist a few years, or even a few months, ago. I study the future of my industry and how I can stay relevant and continue to grow. I ask my team to find trends in their respective areas, so we can put our heads together to develop new strategies when necessary.

What I’m trying to say is that we’re in a constant state of motion. Business, education, medicine, charities… they’re all developing without regard to what you know. So I encourage you to keep learning new things.

Now, I know you’ve been hanging on my every word and remember everything I’ve just said. But just in case, here’s a summary of the five things I hope you’ll find important in leading a successful life: Teamwork, integrity, grit, empowerment and research. T-I-G-E-R. When you put this list together, it’s an acronym for Tiger. That’s what I am. That’s what you are. Skirt or no skirt, that’s what we’ll always be.

Some of us are Tigers from the old school, some from the new school. But we’re all Tigers from the Little School. And that, my friends, is what makes us special.

Thanks for having me. Congratulations and good luck.

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