I played baseball when I was young, and was a member of a team that won a citywide championship. I still have the trophy from that year, the caption of which reads: “League and Tourney Champs: F.A.C Bucks 1971”.
I suppose I saved the trophy after all these years because I have so few of them. Trophies were a rarity in 1971, at least for me.
When I passed the room of one of my children today, I saw a bulletin board that was filled with medals and ribbons. Oddly, the medals were kind of clumped together, while the ribbons were situated with respect.
Upon closer inspection I saw that the medals came from participation. The ribbons, on the other hand, were earned by doing well in a competitive race.
Despite my generation’s impulse to lavish out participation medals, young people know that there is something very special about recognition that has been earned through hard work, effort, toil and competition. We save those moments of recognition because they’re so hard to come by in the first place. Which brings me to the central message of this post.
In the spring of 2017, as recorded in the Wall Street Journal, Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the commencement address for his son’s 9th grade class. His address was titled “I Wish You Bad Luck.” He went on to tell his audience that most commencement speakers offer platitudes, and nearly always wish their audience the very best of luck. Roberts refused that direction, and offered a different approach, instead. He said:
From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
I hope that you will suffer betrayal, because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.
I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.
And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.
I hope you’ll be ignored so that you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in our misfortunes.
After these remarks, Roberts went on to invite his audience to get into the habit of writing a hand-written note (no texts or emails) each week to another person expressing thanks and gratitude for their kindness or influence. He said that doing so will make others feel special. Though his remarks may be difficult for most 9th graders to comprehend, I’m glad that John Roberts is our Chief Justice.
It’s a New Year. Many of us have made resolutions, and may be determined to write an entirely new future for ourselves. I hope that future includes justice, loyalty, friendship, success tempered by humility, sportsmanship, listening, compassion—and a weekly note, preferably hand-written though, in my opinion, a text or email will do the trick.