But, they are being successful. They are succeeding.
I’m here tonight to recognize a different kind of success: academic achievement. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what this success means and doesn’t mean. And the differences are more complicated that at first glance.
· Like the gamer, you have succeeded in a relatively narrow range of skills.
· Like the gamer, you’ve figured out how the system works, adapting to the needs of different teachers.
· Like the gamer, you’ve spent a significant part of your life mastering education—somewhere in the range of 10,000 hours: the equivalent to one year of your life.
· Like the gamer, you’ve found cheat codes and chosen or not chosen to take them.
· Like the gamer, you’ve had to work obsessively to accomplish a goal.
So, why then am I here celebrating your success tonight, and not speaking at a gaming convention? There is one critical difference between the gamer and the academic: delayed gratification. Those in this room have learned to delay their impulses of immediate reward for longer-term and hard to achieve goals. Education is, by its nature a practice in delayed gratification. How many goals require 12 years of study? Those in this room have found a means of seeing years, rather than minutes and days ahead. Because, let me be honest for a moment: it’s way, way more gratifying to play a video game than read a book.
Academic success, unlike gaming, is the ultimate test of delayed gratification. Mastering the skills of math, science, English, world languages..these aren’t the undertakings of high school, they are the endeavor of living. And what this institution teaches isn’t even those subjects. The real learning that takes place in an institution like this doesn’t have to do with subjects or homework. This place is simply a vehicle to teach the larger skillset: delayed gratification. By way of example, let’s focus instead for a moment on the parents in this room.
Statistically speaking, you are the children of parents who went to doctors for prenatal care, planned their pregnancy, ate healthy, exercised—vaguely hoping that those actions would pay off 17 years later in Senator square.
When you were born, they fed you well, provided constant stimulation at the cost of their personal lives and mental health, delaying their personal goals. They read Curious George, Goodnight Moon until they had memorized the pages, without ever seeing immediate payoff. When you were learning to read, they—like I do now with my six year old daughter—sat there as you tried their patience pronouncing each word. Your parents sat there listening while having ten thousand other important things to do, giving up on their own hobbies and private interests. They volunteered to coach, mentor, serve on the PTA. They cheered at your games and prodded you towards success with rewards---and the occasional threat. They paid property taxes to afford the building I speak in now. They kept on top of your grades, demanded homework, checked Powerschool daily.
Parents, look at your son or daughter sitting there.
They are your ultimate testament of delaying gratification. Their success tonight, it really isn’t their success—even though we are supposedly here to celebrate them.
So, tonight I’m not just celebrating your success. Yes, this is your academic letter. Yes, you did the work. Instead tonight I want to celebrate a few people who made your failure improbable.