By Paul Wein
The only difference between tonight’s ceremony and the one I went to eleven years ago was that this time, I wasn’t graduating, I was the guest speaker. Instead of being the one in the cap and gown listening to the speeches given by the people on stage – I was the one on stage giving the speech.
It’s no surprise that I was the guest speaker at this year’s ceremony – the fortieth in the history of the school and the first of the new millennium. I say that not with ego, but with fact. The reason it is no surprise is because I volunteered.
I volunteered because I wanted to do what everyone says is impossible – I wanted to go back again. I wanted to go back to that ceremony and remember what it was like to be amongst a sea of cap and gowns while I retraced those steps I took as Pomp and Circumstance echoed through Brooklyn College’s Walt Whitman Hall. But more importantly – I wanted to change the future.
Throughout the course of my life, God has been so good to me. He has guided me through bad jobs and unhappy relationships to a point where I am doing what I love to do and living with the woman I will always love – it is for that reason that I volunteered to speak to Sheepshead’s Class of 2000 – to give back some of the guidance and love He has given to me.
If there is one thing I have always enjoyed doing, it’s volunteering my time and resources to try and help shape the lives of the young people that will someday be the leaders of our society. From giving my free time to teach journalism at John Dewey High School and Mark Twain Intermediate School, to taking on eager college interns and publishing their first articles in The Brooklyn Baron – to returning to the very ceremony I attended as a Sheepshead Bay High School graduate eleven years later to try and instill through example to a new generation of graduates that their future is now up to them and they can be whatever they want to be – I am returning the guidance that I have received from God and hopefully helping someone else shape the course of their lives at the same time.
I think all of us should take the time to help shape the lives of our youth. It can be a tough world out there – a little advice couldn’t hurt.
And here is the advice I gave to the Sheepshead Bay High School Graduating Class of 2000:
Good evening. First, I would like to thank Principal Friedman for allowing me to come here and speak to you today. You see, I volunteered to come here because I am very proud to be an alumni of Sheepshead Bay High School – and I hope now that you are graduating, you will feel as proud as I am that you received an education from such a fine school.
The reason I came here today is to offer you some advice. You see, up to this point in your lives, what schools you attended and what classes you took have been someone else’s choice. The schools you attended were based on where you lived – and the classes you took were based on that school’s curriculum – now, it’s your turn. From this point on, your future is in your hands. You get to choose the next school you attend and you get to choose the classes that you will take there. That is why I wanted to come here today – to tell you that today marks a new beginning in your lives – because from now on, your future is up to you.
When I graduated from Sheepshead in 1989, I was terrified. I had no idea what “the world” was like out there or what waited for me. When I was sitting out there eleven years ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to be “when I grew up” – so I made myself a promise. I promised myself that no matter what career I would choose, I would be successful at it and do all I can to make a difference in the world. I also promised myself that I would try my hardest to work in one of the three fields that interested me the most – either broadcasting, wrestling or writing – well, eleven years later – I am the Press Secretary to Mayor Giuliani, I host a television show about pro wrestling called Ring Fever, and I write for the television show South Park. I accomplished all I set out to do and did it in a very short period of time – through hard work, determination – and the desire to keep a promise I made to myself when I was sitting exactly where you are. I am here today to tell you that you can too.
If there is any advice I can give to you – the class of 2000 – it’s to do what you want to do and not to compromise yourself or your principles for anyone. For true success is not measured by the acquisition of wealth or material possessions – but the joy of knowing that when you wake up in the morning to go to work – you look forward to the day ahead because you love what you do.
Go out there, be who and what you want, make a difference in the world, but never forget where you came from. And eleven years from now, come back to this graduation and tell the next generation of graduates what I am about to tell you – that life is what you make it – and your only limitation is yourself.
Thank you very much.