Archive for May 21st, 2016

(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.