Joseph L. Kennedy - Remarks to Graduates

May 19, 2013

Congratulations Class of 2013!

I am honored to a member of your class, especially since I did not have to write a single term paper or take a single exam. 

Although I have spent a lifetime looking forward, I recently find myself looking over my shoulder and thinking about the past.  As I look back, I have started to wonder what makes some moments stand out while so many others have faded into the background.

Certainly, some stand out because of the intensity of the experience.  For example, when I was working on an ecological study of Pyramid Lake in Nevada, one of my tasks was to fly around the lake several times a week and count fishermen – not nearly as hard as it might seem.  While on patrol one Sunday morning, the small single engine airplane I was flying decided to stick a valve into the top of a piston. Silence really can be deafening.  Needless to say, I more or less successfully landed the plane in a boulder field, missing the largest rocks.  I must say that I was better off than the airplane. 

Another example of those high intensity experiences was when I fell out of an overhang about 600 feet up the side of granite wall in the Sierras.  It should not have been all that stressful since I was roped in and securely attached to the wall, but try telling that to your primitive brain when you are swinging back and forth 600 feet over a highway – with really small cars on it.  I can still taste the adrenalin – kind of a metallic taste.  This really is not the type of moment in my life that I was looking for either, but late in the same day we made it to the top of the 1000 foot wall, and I can still remember the “ah moment” of success as we made our way down the trail in the gathering dark at the end of a very long day.

It is those “ah moments” I want to talk to you about.  There have been a lot of them.  You could guess some of them.  Nothing can be more of an “ah moment” that the birth of children and grandchildren.  For me, the 10,000 times I have glanced at my wife and marveled at how much I love and appreciate her are such moments.  Once you start looking, there are just so many more.  Cutting firewood with my dad, gossiping with my mom about the latest happenings in my hometown are other examples that stand out from the background. 

Once running in the Norwood Four-Mile race, I had one of those moments.  The race is an out and back race, and because of that you can see the runners ahead of you as they make the turn and start back toward the finish.  As I neared the two-mile turnaround, I notice a number of young runners – maybe 16 to 18 year olds.  Actually there were 11 of them.  I also noticed that they were looking pretty tired, and I set out to crush their souls.  Yup, the old geezer (late 50’s then) planned to pass all of them.

As I picked them off, I offered inspirational support like, “too bad you are letting the old guy pass you”. The first ten were pretty easy but the last young runner, let’s call him number 11, saw me coming and started to run harder.  I closed within feet, and I could hear him breathing – as the immortal Elvis might say, “his chest was a heaving”.  The very end of the race was a slight downhill, and I like to run downhill.  I zipped by him and beat him by a couple of strides – ahhh, by God!  OK,I know I shouldn’t enjoy that story as much as I do.

Oddly enough, most of my “ah moments” have something in common. Most do not involve work.  Most are moments related to the people I love or things I really love to do.  My message to you is to think about that when you plan your life.

Some will tell you to keep your work and life in balance.  My message is a little different.  My message is that you should work so that you can live and not live to work.  At another graduation another speaker said that no one on his death bed ever says that they wished they had spent more time at the office. 

So go out, work hard, live hard, and try to remember that the really important “ah moments” rarely come except when you are doing something that has a real connection to your soul.

Again, congratulations Class of 2013!