It’s a season of completion and celebration, of nostalgia and new chapters. Across Virginia, thousands of students will walk across the stage, shake the hand of an administrator, and give a smile or small fist pump towards their parents and loved ones as they hold their diplomas and walk back to their seats. In the coming months and years, these graduates will face enormous challenges as they prepare for college, seek employment, and plan for the future. As they do, I offer these three stories and guiding principles:
Don’t quit – instead, choose to take the steps.
When Olympic runner Jim Ryun was in high school finishing a particularly grueling practice, his coach told him to run one more drill up and down the steps of an administration building until he said to stop. Ready to quit, Jim threw his jersey on the ground and headed for his car. But something made him reconsider. Refusing to give up, he turned around and decided to take the steps.
Two months later, in a race among some of the top college athletes in the country, Jim found himself running shoulder to shoulder with the mile world record holder in the final lap. Pushing through his pain and pulling ahead, Jim won the race by just one step, setting the stage for him to become one of the greatest Olympic athletes in track and field.
Today, Jim would say had he chosen not to take the steps at practice that night, he probably still would have run a good race. However, his refusal to quit made the difference between simply participating and setting a world record that lasted for decades. When life hands you a choice between taking the steps or quitting – and it most certainly will – choose to take the steps.
Help someone else across the finish line.
It was 1992 in Barcelona when Derek Redmond took the starting blocks for the 400m semi-final. He was the record holder for the distance and a top contender for the race. Halfway through, Derek fell to his knees clutching the back of his leg with a hamstring injury that shattered his Olympic dreams. But what happened next made his race go down in history.
Determined to finish, Derek stood up and hobbled towards the finish line. When it looked as though he may not make it, a man pushed through the crowd and made his way on to the track. It was Derek’s father. He walked beside his son, offering his support and encouragement, as he helped Derek to the finish line.
In today’s world, it is so easy to keep someone else from reaching the finish line. But your world will change if you focus on how you can help others get across the finish line. When you help someone else across the finish line, you become a part of his or her story – you become a part of history.
Give something back to your country.
Cody Childers had a childhood dream of serving in the United States Marine Corps, and as a young high school senior, he courageously took the steps to make his dream a reality by joining the delayed entry program at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake. In 2009, Cody graduated bootcamp and attended the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger. In an answer to the call of duty, he said goodbye to his family and friends and left the United States as Lance Corporal Cody Childers, bound for Afghanistan on a mission to serve his country. He loved his country and he was eager to give his all.
And give his all he did. Several months later, at only 19 years old, Cody’s body was returned home to Dover Air Force base and escorted to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery.
You may never have to pay the price tag that Cody Childers paid, but we each have an opportunity to serve our country in some way. It may not be on the battlefield; it may be in the hallways of a high school or serving at a food bank. It may be in a laboratory or at a dining room table as you sketch plans for a business venture. Figure out what it looks like for you, and give something back to the country that will make our nation better.
As you continue in the journey, there will be hurdles, failures, triumphs, and fears. There will be twists and turns that no one can predict. But if you allow yourself to be guided by unshakeable principles, you will finish strong.