Editor's note: Principal Dan Haron, who has resigned to take a job in his family's business, gave the following prepared remarks Thursday at the commencement exercises for the Class of 2012:
Good afternoon Members of the , Dr. Steven Falcone, Mr. Matt Byrnes, colleagues, parents, grandparents, guests and most distinguished members of the Darien High School Class of 2012.
Right after my wife and I got married we decided to take ball-room dancing lessons together. It took only two lessons for our instructor to pull us aside and politely but firmly tell us that … well … dancing wasn’t our thing.
So what would possess a shy, uncoordinated, ball-room dancing-reject to take a chance and, in front of 500 teenagers (and by extension thousands of YouTube aficionados), dance to the song “I’m sexy and I Know It”?
For that matter, why would this same person, a forty year-old principal who loves his job, has built a comfort-level in his field of expertise, and is excited, truly excited, every morning to come to work, be willing to give it all up to try something new in a field he knows virtually nothing about?
In both cases the answer lies in a word that captures much about our decision making process; a word that has multiple connotations depending on the situation, a word which guides our actions behind the scenes under so many circumstances. That word is “risk”
Most of us, and I am no exception, are risk averse. We tend to prefer the well-traveled path where the street is paved, the potholes well marked and the destination known to all. We shy away from Frost’s “road less traveled by” because we are uncomfortable with the unknown.
Even our culture as a whole is becoming more risk averse. From how we raise our children, to how we administer medicine, to how we interact with each other, “better safe than sorry” is the motto that seems to guide many of us.
I’d like to propose that we all—especially our dear graduates—rethink our allegiance to that motto and instead embrace Mark Twain’s advice that “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.” And chances are that you didn’t do those things because you were afraid to take the risk.
A new study by Ernst and Young confirms this. It found that while recent college graduates scored high on several important social measures, they scored particularly low on their ability to overcome the fear of risk-taking.
This fear is certainly understandable, especially in light of the litigiousness that seems to permeate our society and the burdensome regulations that often squelch incentives, but I would argue that it can and should be overcome by anyone who wishes to live life to the fullest.
Think for a moment about those times in your life when you’ve taken a risk, even if that risk didn’t pay off immediately; are you better for having done it in the long run? Have you not grown and matured from the experience?
Take the simple act of learning how to ride a bike, for example. Are there any bike riders out there who did not feel shaky, and scared while they were learning? Are there any bike riders who, while learning, did not at one point fall and hurt themselves? But are there any bikers who wish they wouldn’t have taken that risk and learned how to ride a bike?
This is of course a rhetorical question, but is one we should all ask ourselves with regard to many other risks in life we shy away from for fear of difficulty, hurt, or failure.
Those risks range from the relatively ordinary, like asking a girl or guy out on a date, to the more profound, like deciding to have children. In the case of the date, the risk, of course, is the sting of a possible rejection, and the reward is potentially a long term enjoyable relationship.
In the case of having children, the risks are numerous and obvious, and yet all of the parents sitting here today would agree that the joy they experienced while raising you, our wonderful graduates—not to mention the joy they will continue to experience as you mature into adulthood, was well worth the risk.
Now, it might seem a bit strange that the person who for years has been trying to prevent students from engaging in risky behavior is now recommending that they take more risks.
So … just to be clear, I am not referring to those risks that provide immediate gratification. Rather, I am referring to those that have a potential long-term payoff despite the possibility of a short term setback.
So dear graduates as you embark on your next adventure please take some calculated risks and see your life become that much more enriched and interesting.
Take a class outside your comfort zone; if you’re shy, put yourself in social situations that you know deep down are good for you, but might feel awkward or uncomfortable initially; if you have a good idea, start a small business to give that idea a chance to grow. Even if you fail, you will be a better person for having taken the risk and tried.
Wayne Gretzky, one of the greatest hockey players of all time once remarked that “you miss 100% of the shots you never take” … And after thinking about all this, if one day you are faced with an opportunity to take a calculated risk and are still not sure what to do, just remember “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, yeah.”
Thank you very much.