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As soon as he sat back down and I’d heard his valedictory address I was disappointed that as a writing coach in his very school, I hadn’t had a chance to meet with this young man ahead of time to impress upon him the great opportunity at hand. The opportunity for him to create a capstone idea for himself and his audience of his experience in life so far. In my opinion he wasted his ten minutes of fame, the ten minutes he took to address the gathered graduating class and the hundreds of spectators before him by having us all stand up and clap for ourselves. He didn’t say anything meaningful but filled his talk with cliches and throwaway lines. He gave me the impression although I know it cannot be true, that he is a guy who through brute force, that is just sheer will, got himself to the top of the class and had no creative insight into his experience whatsoever. Surely he would like to take stock of what it all meant and as a leader what he might share with his colleagues.

In contrast, the salutatorian whom the program tells me is driven to create his own software company someday, urged his countrymen to be conscious of what they like to do and to do it a lot. Even though I do not expect high school students to know with such great specificity what they want to do with their lives, I was impressed with this young man’s drive and his clear message to his classmates. He urged them not to waste themselves on unimportant matters but to follow their instincts and forge ahead with passion. Based on all that I read and saw of him he is taking his own advice.

For me, in the big high school competition to create winners I see the second place finisher miles ahead of the boy who won top honors just because along the way he managed to learn so much more.