Archive for the ‘Tomorrow’s Dreams’ Category

This is the speech I gave at this year’s Denison High School Band Banquet, at which I presented the seventh annual Super Steve Award. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this award was created in 2011 to honor my late son Stephen, a DHS band member who died in an accident in June 2010 just a few weeks before his 16th birthday.

Good Evening.

Each year, I am honored to be invited to come before this group to present the Super Steve Award. I’d like to thank the band directors, the boosters, the parents, and especially you students for taking the time to remember and honor my son in this way. And, for as long as I have a breath in me, I will always be more than happy to come here and make this presentation.

Seven years. It’s hard to imagine almost seven years have passed since the accident that took Steve’s life. It seems like only yesterday for me, and for anyone else who knew him. Do you remember where you were seven years ago? Most of the Freshmen here were just finishing up second grade…imagine that! You Seniors sitting in front of me didn’t start playing in Band for another year. That seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? And now you’re ready to move on to the next phase in your lives, hopefully filled with new experiences and exciting adventures. I certainly wish you all the best as you move forward in the world. But, be sure to remember where you came from and those you spent time with in class; you might be as surprised as I was to learn how much they really thought about you but were too shy or too cool to say anything back in school.

I realized the other day that very few of us in this room actually knew Stephen. I once said that eventually the day would come when no one here will have ever known him, and that it was the responsibility of those of us who did to tell those who follow a little bit about him. Steve’s friends and classmates still talk about him and the influence he had on their lives; I know this because many of them stay in touch with me through Facebook. That makes me very glad, knowing the memories will stay alive and the stories will keep passing down for a long time to come. Perhaps someday they may be the ones standing here, telling those that come along after all of us are gone what he was like, and why this award is so different from most of the other ones that are handed out this evening.

There have been many superlatives used to describe Steve and his personality. He’s been called a leader, a hard worker, a true warrior, a dedicated trumpet player, and an ideal student, among others. My favorites are “Mr. Integrity” and, of course, “Super Steve.” His accomplishments in academics were well recognized, having won numerous awards going all the way back to elementary school. He was second in his class, and well on his way to becoming valedictorian. He always strived to do his best no matter what he did, including Band; there were countless hours of practice he put in to make himself better.

But, to me the superlatives that mean the most are inscribed on his gravestone – Son, Brother, and Friend. Stephen was a Son whose talents made Chris and me as proud as any parents could ever be. He was a Brother who fought like cats and dogs with his siblings but fought harder when someone crossed them. And, he was a Friend who never hesitated to help others in need.

The criteria used in selecting the individual to receive this award are also superlatives in a sense; they are all qualities that were a part of Stephen’s character, the essence of the “everyday Steve” his classmates and teachers knew and admired, and still talk about to this day.

First is Pride for Band. This speaks for itself. Steve was very proud of being a member of the Touch of Gold, and when he was selected as a section leader he took the job to heart, working hard to learn how to be one of the best. Had he lived, I’m sure he would have been.

Next is Integrity. He stood by what he said, he followed the rules, and both celebrated his successes and owned up to his mistakes. I’d say the title of “Mr. Integrity” was well earned.

Leadership comes next. Steve was a natural leader in many respects, but most importantly he wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he wasn’t willing to do himself.

And finally, Selflessness. He gave of himself – his time and his talents – with no expectation of anything in return.

That sounds like a lot to live up to, doesn’t it? I suppose it is. Steve took it all in stride, and I’m sure if you ask any of the previous recipients of this award that question they might say the same thing. That’s what makes them “super”.

And with that, it is my honor and pleasure to present this year’s Super Steve Award to Maxwell Perez.

(Some background for new readers of my blog: I lost a son, Stephen (Steve), in a drowning accident on June 15, 2010; it was a few weeks before his 16th birthday. He was a member of his high school marching band, and was well regarded and respected for his intelligence, integrity, and just being an all-around “good guy”. The band members created an award during the next school year in his memory called the “Super Steve Award”, and it has been my honor to be asked to present it each year during their end-of-year awards banquet. I write a speech each year as part of the award presentation; this is the speech I gave tonight when I presented this year’s award.)

Good evening. I usually try to start my presentation with some sort of lighthearted lines before I get more serious, but I also figured those of you who’ve heard me up here before would probably appreciate it if I could give a shorter speech. Well, try as I might, I simply couldn’t make it any shorter this time, so I guess we’re just going to have to tough it out together.

I’d like to take a moment to thank the band directors, especially Mr. Onspaugh, for continuing to invite me to present the Super Steve Award each year. I consider it a great honor to do so, and I don’t take this task lightly, just as I know the task of selecting the recipient of this award is not taken lightly.

2016 marks the sixth year this award has been given. We’ve come a long way since a very dark day in June of 2010. The class of 2010 had just graduated, Stephen had just finished his sophomore year, and if my calculations are correct you Seniors had just wrapped up your first year playing in the B. Mac band. Do you remember those days? I know your parents do…and probably the band directors as well.

Now here we are, almost six years after the accident that claimed Stephen’s life, and the class of 2016 is graduating. That’s significant in at least two ways as I see it:

First, it means all of you Seniors are finishing high school and moving on to the next part of your lives, whether that’s college, military service, trade school, straight into the workforce, or someplace else that I haven’t thought of. This is no small accomplishment, and I congratulate all of you on reaching this point. While it may seem like the last six years have been a long time for you, it feels like yesterday to me. Let me give you one piece of advice: the time passes faster as you get older – so don’t blink!

2016 is also the year that many of the members of the DHS class of 2012, the class Steve was in, are graduating from college. I’m very fortunate to be friends on Facebook with a good number of his classmates, and I’ve been watching over the years as they have been posting notes about their highs and lows as they made their way through college, or wherever their lives have taken them. Now, of course, I see photos of many of them wearing their caps and gowns as they prepare to cross the stage to get their degrees. I’d like to think some of them will take a moment to remember the friend they lost way too soon, and when they do I hope it’s with a good feeling from knowing he’s looking down and smiling from above.

Steve’s dream was to attend Harvard University, and if the circumstances were different I might very well have been traveling to Cambridge, Massachusetts this coming week for their commencement. It might seem far-fetched, or even impossible, to imagine someone from a smaller town like Denison ever getting into a school like Harvard, but if you had ever been around my son you’d also know he was determined enough to make it happen. And that, in a sense, is what the Super Steve Award is all about.

You students were given a set of criteria to keep in mind when choosing the person who will receive this award. I didn’t come up with them, but in looking at them I can tell you they include values he lived by every day, and no one was harder on him about them than he was.

So let’s talk about those for a minute.

The first is Pride for Band. How many of you have seen the display about Stephen in the trophy cases outside the band hall? If you haven’t, I invite you to take a few minutes next week and look at it. What you’ll see are mementoes showing how much Steve loved being in the Touch of Gold band, from his well-worn trumpet that he practiced on forever and a day, to some of his music, to patches he earned from band activities. He loved playing in the band, listening to band music, and always looking for ways to better himself as a musician.

Integrity. What do we mean by that word, integrity? I’ve used the phrase “say what you mean and mean what you say” to describe what I think it is, but lately I’ve thought it goes beyond that. I think it also refers to someone you can count on to be there when you need them, doing the best they can in whatever they are asked to do.

Leadership. What does it take to be a leader? For centuries people have written books about it, philosophers have pondered it, and every generation has had to define it for themselves. There are a few things we all seem to agree on: a leader is someone who can make a decision when others cannot; a person who is strong in their convictions and willing to stand up for them; someone who will go to bat for their team, or their friends, and give their all; a person who wins triumphantly, but humbly, and loses gracefully; and someone who knows when to lead and when to follow. Was Stephen all of these things? Not all at the same time, but yes…and with time I’m certain he would have continued to grow and become even better.

And finally, when was the last time you set your own needs and desires aside to help someone else? That’s the essence of selflessness, the last of the criteria. Parents do it all the time for their children, but unfortunately it’s not as common to find it in someone who was Steve’s age. As I go about my life and meet people who knew him, I learn more and more how he would always be willing to help someone else out with things like schoolwork, or just trying to be a friend. It was really frustrating during his last semester of school when he’d call and say he missed his bus, and we’d have to go pick him up… almost every day. Months after his death, we learned he was hanging out with a friend so she wouldn’t have to sit alone waiting for her mother to pick her up.

Will someone having these values be assured of getting into Harvard? Well, I certainly can’t answer that; I gave up predicting the future a long time ago. But, I’m pretty sure a person who does, including this year’s recipient, will do very well in whatever career choice they make.

And now, it is my great honor to present the Super Steve Award to Ali Javed.


This is the day I said goodbye
This is the day you reached out to fly;
This is the day I let go of your hand
This is the day you alone would stand.

This is the day I wanted to weep
This is the day you were laid down to sleep;
This is the day I felt ever so numb
This is the day you showed me how to be strong.

This is the day I will never forget
This is the day you taught me to feel no regret;
This is the day I felt so much love
This is the day you shined down from above.

This is the day I said goodbye.


One Year Later

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Tomorrow's Dreams, Yesterday's Memories

It has been a year since that fateful day
When your rapture came and you went away;
And in this time we have all come to see
The many things that were so special in thee:
Wisdom and talent that through the years
Earned you much admiration from your teachers and peers;
A quiet inner strength and a warrior’s heart
Were qualities that clearly set you apart;
But with ever a gentle and caring soul
That made one so young seem so old;
These memories of you we will cherish forever
Until our rapture comes and we are again together.


A Thought For The Weekend

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Tomorrow's Dreams, Yesterday's Memories

If you were looking for something long and detailed today, I apologize for letting you down. It was a very quiet day, a fitting end to an otherwise noisy week filled with work and family. The relative peacefulness allowed me to reflect on other things, in particular the following thought I had written down several months ago which I would like to share with you:

“Today is the tomorrow of yesterday, and it is the yesterday of tomorrow. Make the most of each today, for it is the only time when tomorrow’s dreams can come true and yesterday’s memories can be made.”

I will explain how I came up with that thought sometime in the future. In the meantime, have a great weekend!

As I’ve mentioned previously, I am a fledgling watch collector. I currently own about a dozen wristwatches and three pocket watches. I am also a member on several online watch forums, where people get together and talk about – what else? – watches. They post photos of their latest purchases, there are all sorts of philosophical discussions about the merits of one brand or movement over another, and there’s even some buying and selling and swapping going on.

The part that stands out to me in all of this is the diversity in the forum members’ locations – the main forum I visit is based in Sweden, and there are members on it from every continent except Antarctica. You could find yourself posting a question, and having no two responses coming from the same country or even the same time zone – say, the first from Australia, followed by Germany, Canada, somewhere in the Caribbean, India, South Korea, and so forth. Many different backgrounds, many different lives and lifestyles, but all brought together by a common interest.

Members also help other members with locating and sometimes purchasing watches that are not always available in their home countries. I was recently involved in two such transactions – one for a watch I wanted that is made and sold only in India, and one for a U.S.-sold watch another member in England wanted for his collection, but could not afford to get shipped to him otherwise. Thanks to online ordering, global financial transaction services like PayPal, and the skillful mastery of each home country’s postal systems, these types of activities go on all the time and are perfectly safe. The watch I received from India took less than a week to travel halfway around the world, while the one I sent to England saved its new owner about 2/3 of the original cost he was quoted. Both arrived at their destinations in pristine condition.

I use all of this to illustrate how much smaller the world has become here in the age of the Internet. The transformation has been dramatic: in about the same amount of time it has taken for my daughter to grow up to adulthood, our society has moved from slow, crude (compared to today), one-to-one computer bulletin board systems (BBS’s) to sophisticated websites and e-mail services. Simple text files were a major stumbling block in the BBS days, and sending graphics like photos to one another was unthinkable; now, we can have live streaming video from the other side of the world sent to our desktops with a picture quality that rivals cable TV. Those watch transactions would have been impossible to complete or consider. Even this blog’s graphical appearance was unimaginable all those years ago. The latest breakthrough? Being able to carry the Web with you in your pocket or anywhere else in the world using smartphones or laptop computers and wireless networks.

What’s next? That’s hard to predict, but one thing is certain: the world will be even smaller then than it is now, and the generations to come will likely shake their heads and wonder how we were able to accomplish so much in our “larger” world.


Writing Today, Remembering Tomorrow

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Tomorrow's Dreams

In response to one of my other postings, a fellow SharedWords member made the following comment: “In years to come pieces of your writing, like this blog, will be treasures to you and your family.”

I hope she’s right.

I’m sure it’s the wish of everyone who writes to have their words remembered long after they were written, and still longer after they have left this world. In days past, this was a lot tougher to do because of more limited access to the tools a person needed to create and properly preserve their work. In this age of word processors, CDs/DVDs, the Internet, and instant publishing, almost anyone with an idea and a keyboard can write and preserve it for posterity, even if they use nothing more than cryptic abbreviations (i.e. text messaging) or write one short sentence at a time (i.e. Twitter). And soon enough, even a keyboard won’t be needed – there are several very good speech-to-text converters on the market that take spoken words and type them out on a computer screen, and each year this technology continues to improve.

So, it seems nowadays anyone can acquire the tools to write words and make them last. But, even with all those things at everyone’s disposal, some people seem more destined to be remembered for their writing than others. Why?

Here’s my opinion: A person’s writings are better remembered for the feelings and emotions they stir within the reader than for the words themselves. On their own, words are lifeless and bland; but, in the hands of a talented writer, they can be brought to life and filled with color, leaving behind all manner of feeling and emotion as they tell their story. The better a person can accomplish that,  I believe, the more likely their writings will be remembered in the years to come.

So now I ask myself: will the things I’m writing today be remembered tomorrow?

I’d like to think so, but only time will tell for sure.