At Hall County school graduations, Superintendent Will Schofield typically gives a speech or offers a lesson before confirming the diplomas. He’ll often walk around on stage at Free Chapel, encouraging the students as they sit in their caps and gowns in front of him.
But North Hall High School’s graduation ceremony Saturday, May 26, was anything but typical. So Schofield took some advice that had once been given to him by his father: “Sometimes son, you’ll look around the room, size up the situation and you’ll see the best thing you can do is sit back down and listen.”
That’s what he did as Gov. Nathan Deal, who was in the audience to see his granddaughter graduate, walked to the stage wearing a green, black and white tie. The entire room came to its feet, offering a standing ovation for the governor who has just months left in office.
As Deal started to speak, he congratulated the graduates and their families for helping them get there. He promised to keep his speech brief, but also promised to be specific, hoping his advice would be more useful than other “flowery” commencement addresses.
“You’re about to enter a world that your parents and those who preceded you are entering with you, and it is unknown,” Deal said. “Hopefully as we give you guidance, both your parents, your teachers, your advisers and me today, we hope that what we say to you will have universal importance regardless of what the world presents to you.”
His goal wasn’t to tell the graduates how to be successful as they move on to what life has for them next. He said “everybody’s definition of success is different,” and the way each person gets to that success is different, too.
He wanted to focus on something a little more simple: character.
“Be nice,” Deal said. “You will be surrounded with voices that seek to belittle and degrade others, in order to elevate themselves. Don’t listen to them and most certainly don’t join them.”
He went on to encourage the graduates to have a good attitude, work hard, never quit and not be afraid.
“The unknown, which is simply what the future really is, is something that you’re going to have to venture into,” Deal said. “Every great discovery, every new invention, every step of the ladder of civilization have been the rewards to those who have overcome the fear of failure and the fear of the unknown.”
He told graduates he hopes they “develop a strong ethic of self discipline” and “a compassionate, servant’s heart” as they move on from high school. He finished by quoting the old recruiting slogan of the U.S. Army: “Be all you can be.”
“You don’t know at this point in your life what you can be,” Deal said. “But if you don’t explore those possibilities, then you will simply settle for a hollow shell of what you might have been.”