‘Leave this world a better place…’

'Leave this world a better place…'
University of South Dakota President James Abbott decided to follow suit.

In ceremonies often filled with cliches offered by student speakers, Abbott, who keynoted the Vermillion High School Class of 2006's commencement exercises in Slagle Auditorium Sunday, offered a few trite phrases of his own.

The result was a discussion about what awaits all of the graduates that was, at times, both humorous and serious.


"This ceremony is called commencement for a reason," Abbott said. "It's the beginning of a new period in your life, and an exciting one at that. And it's a time in your life that you're most anxious to begin."

In the best tradition of commencement speakers, he said, he felt it necessary to share tidbits of advice with the students shortly before they received their diplomas.

  • There are three kinds of people in the world: those who learn by reading, the few who learn by observation, and those who are absolutely compelled to urinate on the electric fence of life.

    "They just have to see what will happen, even though they know what will

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    happen," he said. "If you are one of the latter, relax. Most of us are of the latter breed. We have to learn everything the hard way."

    Life, Abbott said, will be a series of electric fences. "You may be the type who can't resist them. If so, keep trying to resist. But if you can't, don't worry. After all, good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of experience is the result of bad judgement."

  • Don't squat with your spurs on. "There is a right place and a wrong for everything," Abbott said, "and both correct and incorrect behavior."
  • Always drink upstream from the herd. "Individuality is a good thing. As the poet said, ?Know thyself.' Figure out your strengths and capitalize on them. Likewise, analyze your weaknesses, and improve upon them."

    Abbott told the class to be good followers when they are unable or don't wish to lead.

    "Lead if you have the ability or the inclination to do so," he said. "But remember, if you are riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure the herd is still there."

  • Spend some time every day pondering the important questions of our time. "Things like: If man evolved from monkeys and apes, why do we still have monkeys and apes? If an individual goes into a bookstore to purchase a self-help book, is it ethical to ask the salesperson for help? What should you do if you see an endangered animal eating an endangered plant? If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest have to drown, too? And why is it called tourist season if we don't get to shoot them?"
  • Try a little harder to understand your parents, and hope against hope that your children give you the same courtesy.

    "One guarantee I can make: One day, maybe five years from now, may 10, you will be talking with your parents, and you will wonder how they got so smart in such a short period of time when they were so out of it just a few years ago," he said.

    Abbott told the graduates that it's easy to find fault with those who don't agree with their views.

    "An honest difference of opinion, however misguided in our eyes, should always be given the respect it and its proponent deserves," he said. "I think this is particularly good advice in the Midwest, where we see many of the same people day in and day out."

    Life, Abbott said, is not a destination. It's a journey.

    "We need to stop along the way. We need to take a detour now and then," he said. "Life is more like a fine wine. It should be savored and slipped slowly, not gulped."

    He told members of the VHS Class of 2006 to take time to consider the people and places in their lives.

    "Appreciate them for what they are. Learn from them. Celebrate them. Do a good deed, no matter how small, every single day," Abbott said.

    He told the students to continue working hard.

    "Read. Learn. Do your best in all you do, and above all, leave this world a better place than you found it," Abbott said.

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