2014 TABOR ACADEMY COMMENCEMENT SPEECH

Dave McGillivray
June 1, 2014

Thanks for that kind introduction.

Headmaster Quirk, Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, distinguished guests, parents, family members, friends, graduates.

I am truly honored to be with all of you today. 

Anyone here run?  Anyone walk?  Anyone just want me to get this over with so we all can head out and party like rocks stars??

Years ago when asked what I did for a living, I use to embarrassingly mumble, “I am a race director!”  So, what the heck does a race director do?  Put a chalk mark in the road and yell go??  Now I say, by producing all the events I do, I help raise the level of self-esteem and self-confidence of tens of thousands of people in America. 

People then immediately ask, what are you some sort of doctor or something?  I used to say, no…but recently I received an honorary degree and they called me Dr. McGillivray, so now I can say, YES, I guess I am a doctor!!

Fourty-two years ago -- I graduated from high school and gave the valedictory address.  I recall talking about how the previous four years prepared us graduates for what I thought would lie ahead for all of us as we were about to leave the safe confines of a high school environment and enter college. 

For me, I knew I had prepared well and I was on my way, I just wasn’t really sure where I was going and what I wanted to do.   It is said that a good traveler has no fixed plans because he is not intent on ever arriving.  I still don’t think I have ever fully arrived but I’m actually relieved about that.   I just want to keep going and going and going…like the Eveready bunny.

Anybody, remember the Olympic skater a few year’s back who got whacked in the knee by another skater while training for the Olympic Trials?  Do you recall what the two words were that she cried out in agony?  “Why me?”   Well, when asked to speak to you today, I said the same thing, “Why me?” 

I’m really no one special.   I’m not a complex person.   Not a politician or an actor.   I haven’t invented anything yet.   I don’t recall ever having saved anyone’s life.  I’m not the President of the country or “running” for President.  

I haven’t thrown any touchdown passes in Gillette Stadium or hit any balls over the Green Monster.  I never even won the Boston Marathon…in fact, I finish last every year.   You see, I’m just…well…I’m just, Dave.

So, unlike probably all the other commencement speakers these past few weeks, I’m not going to lecture you, I’m not going to talk to you about the economy or about the job market or even about college.  And, I am not going to talk about all of the negative stuff which may seem to be all around us these days. I’m just going to talk to you about all the good stuff because there is a lot of good stuff awaiting you. 

I just want to talk to you…about you.

I wonder how many graduates here honestly do not even know what you want to do or where you want to go in life, now that you are graduating from high school.  What a coincidence, neither did I.   A good buddy of mine, Forrest Gump, once said, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” 

The guy was right, because none of us really know what the future will bare.  But, that’s the beauty about it, that’s the adventure that awaits you.

So, just what did I take away from my four years at high school that prepared me for college and then the next 38 years of my life?   Well, it was my high school experience that gave me…a chance.  That’s it…not everyone gets one of those in life.  And really, that is all I ever wanted, a chance.   Once I got it, I didn’t want to blow it.  I never missed a day of school in four years and I never once missed a class.  I wanted to get the most out of my education as I knew I’d probably never be back. 

It was what I learned from my overall experience of just being in high school that was a defining moment in my life.   Defining moments, they happen all the time to all of us.  You just have to recognize them when they happen and you need to take advantage of them.

When I left school, I soon realized that there really was no end to my education.  It is not that you read a book, pass an exam and you are finished with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.   I am one of very few people on this planet who thinks sleep is over rated.  I so want to get the most out of every day.

All of us here today have something in common.  You know what that is…we woke up this morning…not everyone else did.  You didn’t have a lot to do with that.  But what happens to you the rest of the day is, in fact, in your control.   We are the lucky ones.    

Since I left school, I learned a real lot about - being me.  My goals in life have always been to stay young and to stay fit, not just physically fit, but mentally, emotionally, morally, intellectually, ethically and spiritually fit.

I learned about credibility and about integrity and about honesty.  I learned about paying it forward.  I learned that when you give, you actually receive even more in return…it’s a trick!   I learned about warding off self-pity and that when you appreciate what you have you actually get much more out of it…pretty simple stuff, but very powerful.

Ben Franklin started each day by asking himself "what good can I do today?" Before he went to bed each night, he asked "what good, did I do today?"  All of us, young and old, should actually do the same thing…every day.

I learned that life is a marathon, not a sprint…okay, you knew that was coming!   You are at the starting line of your marathon.  You have qualified for that spot on the line. 

Pace yourself, be patient, you’ve got a long way to go and you’ll probably encounter a few hills, bends and turns along the way.

So, if I am not going to lecture you, what do I have to share with all of you?  What I do have are a few lessons learned which I think you all will be able to identify with.

When I was a young boy, one of the first questions I was asked was, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” 

I only wanted to be one thing…I wanted to be “an athlete.”  That’s it.   Second base, Boston Red Sox.   Unfortunately though, I kept getting cut from all the teams I tried out for and I was always the “last pick”.  In fact, I wrote a book called, The Last Pick.  I was vertically challenged, so, no one wanted me.  That was devastating…no one wanted me. So I started running.  Why?  Because no one can cut you from running.  You just…run.

Only recently I finally realized what I truly wanted to be in life.  I saw a billboard in Boston which had just one word on it – ACCOMPLISHER.  I realized just then that this is exactly what I want to be…an accomplisher. 

Isn’t that what we all want to be and to do…set goals, work hard and accomplish something…anything.  Again, pretty simple.  I told you I wasn’t very complex person.  Nothing, I mean nothing, can make you feel better than that.  Just do something meaningful, anything.

You know who the most important person sitting in this “room” is…it’s YOU!   It is.  As such, we all have a responsibility and an obligation to take care of…ourselves.  Believe it or not, that is a very unselfish thing to do.  

By doing that, you relieve others of the responsibility of someday having to have to take care of you and you put yourself in a position to take care of others who are in need.  You not only owe it to yourself to watch out for yourself, but you also owe it -- to the rest of us.

So, setting realistic goals, having the guts to commit to them, doing the work to earn the right to go after them and succeeding at them makes you…an ACCOMPLISHER.   

There is no greater reward in life than the self-satisfaction knowing that you indeed accomplished what you committed to and what you set out to do.

Now, I want to share just a few very brief personal experiences and leave you with five simple lessons I learned from them:

  1. LESSON 1:  EARNING THE RIGHT TO DO SOMETHING…

I ran my first Boston Marathon as a high school senior.  I called my grandfather and told him.  He said he’d meet me at Coolidge Corner, 24-miles.  I dropped out at 18 and was taken to Newton Wellesley Hospital.  I called my grandfather a number of times and he finally answered at 9pm at night….

I continue to set goals, but not reckless ones any more.   In the entire process, I have learned that those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.  And, I have learned that the worst injustice you can ever do to yourself is to underestimate your own ability.

  1.  LESSON 2: ACCOMPLISHING SOMETHING  DOESN’T MEAN EVERYONE IS HAPPY FOR YOU.  Two years after I graduated from college, I ran across the United States for the Jimmy Fund. 

While running by through the state of Iowa one day, kids in a pick up truck started coming at me and tried to run me over.  They turned around and did this three more times.  I wondered why are they doing this to me, as I was just trying to do something good, I was just trying to help little kids. 

I concluded it was because they were perhaps envious and upset that someone was trying to accomplish something positive.  I just carried on and kept running, realizing just then that sometimes the toughest part about achieving something and succeeding is realizing that maybe not everyone is going to be happy for you.  But, you must remain positive and remain driven.   Leave the negative people to the cold frustration of complaint.  They inhabit a lonely world best left to themself.

  1. LESSON 3: BEING PREPARED

I’ve always thought my greatest asset was that I was always prepared.   Winning is the science of being totally prepared.  After the birth of my first child, the nurse came into the room and handed off my newborn son to me, then turned and started walking out the door.  I yelled at her, “hey, where you going?”  She yelled back, “what do you mean where am I going, he’s yours now.”  I said, “I know he is mine, but what do I do with him?  Where’s the instructions, where’s the owner’s manual?” 

She turned and said, “there is no manual, you are own your own now pal” and proceeded to walk out the door.  Similarly, you are all about to be handed a diploma (and luckily not a newborn) and you, too, are now own your own and I trust you are much more prepared then I was with my first born.

  1. LESSON 4: MY GAME, MY RULES

My mantra has always been, “It is My Game, so it is My Rules”.  I have learned to do what I want, not what others may want me to do.  Our time is limited here, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  We only get one shot at this.  As a goal, since age 12, I have always run my age on my birthday…don’t ask why.  I turn 60 in a few months.  Many ask, what are you going to do when you turn 90?  I don’t know, but since it is my game, it is my rules and I can always change the rules.

A few years ago, I received a call in my Boston Marathon office from a young girl named, Katie.  She asked if she could meet with me.  I said sure.   She was in a wheelchair and was only 26 inches tall.  She asked if she could run the marathon…I asked her to ask me a difficult question…and said yes, she could.   She said her marathon was 26.2 feet.  She did it in about seven minutes with her walker.  It was the most emotional moment in sports I have every witnessed.  

Like Katie, it’s your game so it is your rules.   And, don’t be afraid to change the rules.  Be realistic about your expectations and build for success, not failure.   You can do just about anything you want to do in life if you are willing to accept the sacrifices involved. 

  1.  LESSON 5:  NO ONE SHOULD TRULY HAVE TO WORK A DAY IN THEIR LIFE

I finished my 1978,  3,400 mile run across America inside Fenway Park in front of 32,000 people.  The next day, my boss said I had to come back to work right away.  I told him I needed a few days to recover and I’d be back.  Two days later, he fired me!  Best thing that ever happened to me.  So I then turned a hobby into a vocation and started my own business.  I had a vision and followed it, as I’ve always felt that the genius is seeing it in the seed.

I decided to take a path not taken by many others and chose to serve in a unique way…and you can, too.   It all comes down to doing what you love and trying to make a difference.  Running was a big part of my life, so I expanded on that to see how far a human being could really go - all the while helping to raise millions of dollars for those who are less fortunate.

When asked now what I do for work, my typical response is, “I don’t work.”  I love what I do.  I’m in the helping people business.  Every day is a gift and is a good day for me, as it should be for everyone, especially, all of you.  

Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.  If you hate your job, don’t worry because you probably won’t have it for that long!     

There is no reason not to follow your heart.  Just try.  Don’t settle for less.  Find what you love.  I am convinced that the greatest single de-ter-min-ant of your success will be passion.  Passion has driven me towards all of the best decisions in my life.   All that it takes is courage and perseverance.
Lastly, and most importantly, I’ve learned there is no such thing as an individual award or achievement.  Success can be considered an illusion as we owe everything to our parents, our teachers, our coaches and all those who put us on the road less traveled.  They all deserve a piece of your diploma.

And, don’t neglect the most important things in your life…your family, your friends and especially those in need.

A French nobleman once said, “I expect to pass through this world but once.   Any good things, therefore, that I can do and any kindness that I can show a fellow being, let me do it NOW.   Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Only a few months ago I had a health scare and discovered I had severe coronary artery disease.  Me?  I thought I was invincible.  I’ve run over 150,000 miles and across the entire country and I have heart disease. 

I spent my entire life trying to be fit, but not necessarily trying to be healthy.  I thought one meant the other.   Lying on the operating table at Mass General Hospital only a few months ago, I really thought the end was near.  But, in Boston Strong fashion, I said to myself it is not my time yet. I’m going to get myself out of this mess.  I have 5 children and a wife who are depending on me.

So, I attacked, because I want to live.  In only a few short months I turned it all around and now I am as fit and as healthy as I have ever been.  I got a second chance.  Many don’t.

The lesson here folks is – you have to take care of yourself – now and every day.    For me, I am never looking back and I am never going to slow down.  Time waits for no one.  I’m going to keep going until I just simply “run” out of time…which I think I just have.

So, if you remember anything, just remember, set goals, not limits.  It is your game, so it is your rules. 

Thank you, best wishes and God bless all of you. 
 

 

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