Last Call: Closing Words from Chris in a Speech to MMWUC Graduates

As we noted last week, this will be my father’s final Monday Morning Wake Up Call. My father’s content on his website, including this and other Monday Morning Wake-Up Calls will continue to be available via this website.

Growing up, my father typically had the last word. And though as I child I hated to admit he was right, the fact remains that he almost always was. So, it is only fitting that my father has the last word on the morning message that he created. 

The following text is from the address my father gave at my high school graduation in June 1996. To this day, I can hear my father’s voice and see him standing at the podium on the stage looking at the graduating class of my high school.  He was 47 at the time and at the height of his career at USLIFE as the President and COO.    

When he wrote and spoke these words, the only people who referred to him as “The Coach” were those kids that played on his Little League baseball teams (myself and my brothers included). But, if one reads the words, it is impossible not to notice that they bear striking resemblance to the messages he conveyed later in life via his writing and work as “The Coach.” Most importantly, these were not merely words; rather, both before and after this speech, my father practiced and lived every lesson in his speech for the entirety of his lifetime. 

In closing, on behalf of my mother Paula, my brothers Christopher and Andrew and our wives Mary, Chinda, and Gina and Chris’ 8 grandchildren – Jonah, Olivia, Bennett, Sophia, Alexa, Christina, Allie Kate, and  Laynie – we wish to thank you all for supporting our family as well as following my father’s emails.

–Steve

 

I stand before you impressed and intimated by the potential that exists in this gymnasium this morning.  I feel like the missionary walking through the jungle who comes upon a rather ferocious Bengal tiger.  The missionary, fearing that his life may be coming to an abrupt end, immediately drops to his knees, closes his eyes, and begins to pray to God for his survival. As he prayed, he opened one eye and noticed that the tiger too had dropped to his knees and was praying. The missionary stood up and exclaimed, “A miracle…you’ve joined me in praying for my survival!”  The tiger responded, “Praying for your survival? On no, sir, I was just saying grace.”  So, for the time I’m with you today – unlike the tiger, be kind to me.

It is my honor to have been invited to speak with you on this very special day as we recognize you, the Class of 1996 – our graduates. Graduate is a wonderful word.  It embodies a strong sense of accomplishment.  Yet, for all of you, it reflects a view toward the future and the beginning of the next phase of your journey through life.

Your four years at St. Joseph By-the-Sea has given each of you the ability to rise above those times when you become stalled – as you will – during your journey. Remember what the faculty at Sea has taught you – to believe in yourself, to care for others, to have confidence in your abilities, and to have faith in your religion and God – these are the most important tools that you will take with you on this, your graduation day.  Their value to you far exceeds what they cost to obtain.

As your guest speaker, my role is to share with you meaningful and inspiring information. And I will try to – but you and I both know that 30 seconds after you go through the doors at the end of this ceremony, your entire intellectual system will shut down, and your “Let’s party” system will kick in. You should know that a lot of what I will say to you today will stay with you. At various moments in your lives, some of what you heard today will come back to you and make sense to you then.

I’m going to talk to you about several subjects.

The first is a simple one – it’s parents. You have them and yes, ladies and gentlemen, many of you one day will become one.

Right now, all of your parents are sitting behind you, asking themselves the same question: “Where did the time go?” You’ve all grown up so fast before our very eyes and it seems like it was just yesterday that we held you for the first time. All of us as parents remember that first moment.

More importantly, however, when we held you for the first time and looked into your eyes, we said, “I’ll always be there for you. I’ll never let anything hurt you, and I’ll never let you go.”

Today, we as parents, are in a state of conflict. We need your help to resolve it. You see, we know that today, for us, is the beginning of the letting go process. If you’re going to grow up into the wonderful adults that we know you will, then it’s time that we start to let you go. But you have to understand that we promised you on the day you were born that never would. No matter where you go, or how mature, or successful you become, we will always worry about you—you see, we love you more than life itself.

So be patient with us; help us through this difficult time. God only gave you one set of parents, so you need to give us some tender loving care.

The next subject falls under the heading of “Speed Bumps in the Parking Lot of Life.” Now, you know what it’s like to be driving through the small parking lot on a beautiful sunny day, the windows are down, the radio is up so loud that the people in Perth Amboy can hear what songs are playing, and – life couldn’t be better. Everything is going your way. Then, all of a sudden – whack­ – you hit a speed bump.  The front end of the car shakes so violently that the fillings in your teeth become loose. What happens? The next time you encounter a speed bump you’ll take it a little slower or you’ll figure a way around it.

There will also always be little things that frustrate you. Some of the little things that frustrate me, and I’m sure frustrate you, are things like trying to spread cold, hard peanut butter on a slice of soft bread.  The tiny red string in the Band-aid wrapper never works for me. Or why do hot dogs come in packages of 10 and the rolls only come in package of 8? Or a big one that really bothers me is when you pull all the mozzarella of your slice of pizza on your first bite.

No matter how difficult or ridiculous things may be, keep them in their proper perspective. Keep your sense of humor. But most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s always someone to talk to whether it be your parents, your friends, or the faculty here at Sea. Some once told me that when you wake up in the morning and see the ceiling, you know you’re alive, and at that point, half of the day’s problems are already gone, and the other half are easier to handle.

Lets’ go to the next subject: Getting ahead in life and in a career. No matter how far you go in your life and your career, never forget where you came from. Where you came from is the very foundation of your being. I am 47 years old and the President and Chief Operating Officer of one of the top ten largest writers of life insurance in this country today. I travel around the country in first-class. The corporate lifestyle and the money can dazzle you, and corrupt you – if you let it. But I know that whenever I return home from a trip, I’ve got at most ten minutes after I walk in the door before the phone rings and at the other end I hear my mother saying, “Why didn’t you call to tell me you were home?” In that brief moment, she reminds me that no matter what I may be in my business career, I’ll always by Rose and Larry’s little boy. And you know what? That’s okay with me. Because being Rose and Larry’s little boy has allowed me to become what I am today.

Remember that all work is honorable, whether you be at the top of the corporate ladder or at the first rung. Always do your best because someone is always watching. It doesn’t take a lot of extra effort to excel above the average. No one ever made it to the top by never getting in some trouble. Part of growing up is learning to take risks, not wild and carefree risks, but calculated risks. Like the turtle, none of you will ever get ahead unless you stick your neck out. It’s ok to make a mistake because if you learn from it, it’s been a positive experience. Worse than making a mistake, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, is not even attempting to try.

Always try to do whatever job you have right, but don’t take yourself too seriously – have fun. Never become so consumed by your career that nothing is left that belongs only to you and your family. Don’t allow your profession to become the whole of your existence. Also, there’s no end to what you can accomplish – if you don’t care who gets the credit. Doing things that only make you look good is like writing your life story on an “Etch-a-Sketch” toy – it can be easily erased. In business, and in your personal life, you will come across people who will annoy you, possibly hurt your feelings, and literally get under your skin. Sometimes it’s not worth the effort to get involved in a dispute with those types of people. When you chase a skunk, the skunk has fun and you just get smelly.

A great American philosopher – Yogi Berra – once said, “Don’t always follow the crowd. A lot of people go there; it gets too crowded.” Sometimes you need to carve out your own trail and pursue it. If you’re right and you believe in yourself, eventually others will follow.

Be true to yourself and stand by your convictions. Your personal integrity will be the most valuable asset you will ever own. However, don’t be afraid to compromise if that’s how progress will be achieved.  Listen to the opinions of others, but don’t give up your mind or your decision-making power to anyone.  If you’re going to make a decision which you know will not be well-liked by others, but you know it’s the right decision, then stick with it no matter what the consequences. Others who claim to be your friends may disagree with you. If they alienate you for your actions, then they were probably not your friends to begin with. Move on and forget them.

As you’ve often heard, life does have its moments. But, when you consider the alternative, it’s the best game in town. Make the most of it. Do the best you can with what you’ve got and have pride in what you do.

The last subject is an important one. You’ve all heard the expression that payback is a ______ and you thought I’d say a bad word. But you know what I’m talking about. Payback can be a positive experience – when it is really giving back.

If you are to be successful as adults, then you must always look for opportunities to reach back and extend your hand to those who have fallen behind you to lift them up. You must make an effort to share with them your thoughts, your prayers, your time and even some of your wealth to help lift their spirit and move them along. You must do this without any expectation of reward or recognition. You must help because it is the right thing to do. If we do not help those who need help as we go forward into the future, then our world is destined for failure. Each of you has been blessed with certain abilities. As your future unfolds and your life begins to take meaning, remember that you must look for those opportunities to give back to your community for the many good things that God has given you.

Help can take many forms, including some of your time, and even some of your money. As alumni, it is your responsibility to make certain that the tradition and philosophy of St. Joseph By-the-Sea continues and is made available to the many generations of Vikings who will follow after you.

In closing, I would like to share with you some verses from a song recorded by Rod Stewart. These verses capture the deep feelings and best wishes all of us want to extend to you on this very special day.  The song is “Forever Young.” Listen closely…

May the Good Lord be with you down every road you roam 

May sunshine and happiness surround you when you’re far from home

May you grow to be proud, dignified and true

And do unto others as you’d have done to you

May good fortune be with you, may your guiding light be strong

Build a stairway to heaven whether a prince or a vagabond

And, whatever road you choose, I’m right behind win or lose

Be courageous and be brave, and in my heart you’ll always be forever young.

God bless you all, congratulations, and thank you.

Productivity Book Chris Ruisi

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