Graduation Speech 5.26.14

I never thought they’d let me back up on this stage after my Mr. RLHS performance.  I think the last time I was here I was doing a Blue Brothers skit, then had a full Dumb and Dumber ski suit on, and this lovely formal attire.  image

So needless to say, I’m surprised they invited me back.   

First off, I wanted to give a deep thank you to everyone here for coming, and for letting me take a few minutes of your day, I promise to make it short, and I hope it is worthy of your time.  To be honest, I didn’t remember my high school or college graduation, so, if you remember anything from this, I feel as I’ve succeeded.   

It’s really good to be back here.  Red Lodge has always held a special place in my heart, and, class, I promise, nomatter how much you might want to leave now, this is a special place.  As an 18 year old kid, just like you, I was seeing how far we could drive up meeteetsee when there was 3 feet of snow on the ground, or driving to the dip to hang, or even jumping off the bridge at east rosebud, and I remember just wanting to get out of Red Lodge, cause it’s too small, or “there isn’t much to do”, but I promise one day, you will come back and realize how special this place is.   It might be 6 months, 6 years, or 60 years, but eventually you won’t be able to wait to come back and either live, or visit this place.  

So, I’m not entirely sure why I was asked to do this speech.  I’m not sure if it was my background of being a Red Lodge High grad, of being the “Stanford guy”, or being Mrs. Gallagher’s son, or of playing baseball professional, but…  I feel like I am no wiser, smarter, or different than anyone else in this building, and I don’t feel like I should be telling anyone how to live their life, or be giving out life lessons.  So I will not be doing that today. 

But what I can do, is share some experiences I’ve had in my life, and in doing so, I hope you can relate to those experiences… and I hope you can take some of the stuff that  I’ve learned along the way and apply it to your life, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, and maybe in 5 years down the road.   But my wish would be that the experiences and perspectives I share today, you live out each and every day, in some way or another. 

So , today, all I’m going to do is tell you a story;  a story about

fear,

hesitation,

discomfort,

perseverance,

joy,

and invigoration. 

If these emotions sound familiar to you, they are, and will be, as we all experience these everyday of our lives; sometimes in small ways, sometimes in the biggest ways.  When I look back at my life, arguably the most important moments of my life, were full of these sensations.  It’s inevitable that we will all experience them.  So today, I’d like to talk about these moments, what they mean to me, what I believe they will mean to you, and my advice for how to approach them. 

As my bio states, I grew up in Red Lodge, about 5 miles west of town on the same property my whole life.  I graduated highschool in 2004, (yes, I’m old),  I went to Stanford University and graduated with a degree in communication.  I played baseball there, was a 3 year starter, and was drafted in the 4th round by the Seattle Mariners. 

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But when I look back at it, and I think about when I was standing here in your shoes, it’s funny, I never set out to do any of those things.  I never set out to graduate from a school that is the most highly sought out undergraduate education available right now.   And I definitely didn’t set out to be drafted next to guys that are Major League All Stars.  When I was 18 years old, I sat in those same seats as you , and didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next, except get out of Red Lodge.   And that’s a completely normal, and perfect place to be.     

Because at the end of the day, our bios are just words on a page.  Our stats are just flashy summaries everyone puts on their Facebook profile.  We work hard to post our best version of ourselves online for everyone to see.  Showing the finish line, showing the beautiful moment where we’re victorious, and full of joy.   

But I’m not here to talk about those glamorous moments, cause to be quite honest, anyone can run across a finish line, anyone can accept the honor, anyone can stand on the podium. 

But not everyone is always brave enough for the small unseen decisions that precede the greatest moments we witness and experience.  These ones we never see, and I’m here today to talk about their importance.   

I’d like to share an example of one of the times in my life where I experienced fear, hesitation, discomfort more than I ever had before.  

Some of you may know this story, and others may not, but post baseball career, I received a call from a friend who planted an idea in my head.  An irrational, crazy, exciting, but insane idea of motorcycling across Africa.  Just the two of us.  That would be crazy enough if I’d been a world traveler already, or had ridden a motorcycle before, but I hadn’t.  I’d been to Cabo, and I’d ridden a pedal bike.  But after deep thought,  and to make a long story short, I agreed, mainly cause I purchased a Honda XR 400, and didn’t know what else I would do with it… … image

In all seriousness though, I spent days thinking, pondering, dealing with the thoughts we all hear from others, all the outside voices, all the reasons to not do something.  And while I’ll be the first one to say, there are some things that people say you shouldn’t do, you shouldn’t do, but there are other times, when you feel something, you want something, you desire something, so much that listening to others might not always be the best thing for you; yet we often let others define our path, or we give in to the many fears that get in the way of what we truly yearn for.  My trip to Africa was that yearning. 

I’d like to share a journal entry I wrote in Nairobi, Kenya.  This was about half way through our trip.  A point of reflection for me, for us, and I think this writing will help show why this trip became much more than a simple trip to me:   

"Stephen and I had a great conversation over dinner when we arrived here and this is what came up.

The reality:

We probably should have never made it this far. 

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When we both started this trip we didn’t have a clue about a lot.

I have now ridden about 5000 miles on a motorcycle in my life: before this trip I had ridden about 205 of them. 

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I had never been off the continent of North America. 
I had never seen a “middle eastern” toilet. 

Shit, I bought my first motorcycle helmet two days before I left the U.S.

I had no idea about African roads, where most countries actually were, or anything about overland motorcycle travel. 

I didn’t really know the difference between a 4 stroke engine and 2 stroke engine or how to change the oil on our bikes. 

I don’t speak Swahili or Arabic and I’ve never had to acquire a visa in my life.   

But here I am. 

And when I sit and think about it there is very little that separates me from any other person in the U.S.  I have no more qualifications or special talents than any other typical mid 20’s American aside from a few more saved up dollars. 

But, if my bike blows up tomorrow I will be forever changed from this trip even though it’s only “halfway” done.  The trip is no longer about the distance traveled or the countries seen; it’s about the change in our attitudes and approach to life that has been tested, been tried, and strengthened in both Stephen and I throughout the last 4000+ miles.

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In Cape Town, when Stephen and I sat atop Table Mountain and looked north east and pointed in the general direction of Jerusalem, I didn’t know what to think and I don’t think I felt much of anything.  Deep down, Nairobi, let alone Jerusalem felt more than a million miles away.  I had no idea if we’d make it out of South Africa, into Botswana, or how far we’d make it.  The only feelings I seemed to conjure up was those of little to no confidence and zero assurance which left me with a discomfort that all of us would prefer to avoid.  [Back to words].   This unknown so often becomes the hurdle few will jump over; for fear of falling, or probably more so the fear of not knowing where to go after it and wondering if there are bigger, harder hurdles further down the road. 

The truth is:  I was scared.  The morning I woke up the day I left the U.S. I awoke early before my girlfriend and family and was alone; and for the first time fear really hit me in the face.  I had no idea what the next 4 months with only a motorcycle, a bag, on a completely foreign continent would bring.  I felt fear stronger than I had ever before in my life. 

That moment before leaving, that moment where I had to decide if I was doing this trip, is hard to take pictures of, hard to put into a bio, and hard to describe to someone in passing.  It’s definitely not glamorous. 

But, that MOMENT OF COMMITMENT was the most important time of my life, not the trip.  And that decision allowed me to show you guys this:

http://youtu.be/Bh2DxY__4OE

So those are the experiences we put up and show everyone . . …  but,… . .Like I said, those events would have never been possible if during the moments of fear, and hesitation, I didn’t make the decision to push forward and move through with what was once an insane idea. 

So, my message has nothing to do with driving motorcycles or jumping off bridges.  It has everything to do with an approach to parts of life that feel daunting, scary, and too unknown.     

So to close, I wanted to leave you with a simple and silly, yet, I feel effective analogy, that exemplifies the perspective I just shared. 

So, I work out in the morning before work every day.  And every day after my workout, I go to take a shower.  And every day I have two options:  take a warm shower, the one I’ve taken most my life.  The one that will allow me stand in there for hours at a time, that won’t get me too uncomfortable, and the one that leaves me feeling a little more relaxed than before getting in. 

Or, I have that other choice. 

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The cold shower.  The one where every time, nomatter how many times I’ve done it, I hesitate.  I don’t know if it’s worth it.  I don’t know if it’s going to hurt too bad or make me too uncomfortable.  But, when I choose to take this option, sometimes I jump in, sometimes, I put one part of my body in at a time, so the shock is not too abrupt.  And during the shower each time I move, I adjust, I try to get comfortable again, I shudder when the cold water cools another part of me.  But at some point during this experience, if I push through the discomfort, I start feeling more energetic, more alive, stronger, and much more invigorated than I did before.  And every time, I walk out of that shower, I look back and I’m glad chose that option.   

So I want leave you with one question and one comment and I’m done:

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First, a question:  What is your Africa?  What is the thing you’ve always wanted to do but are unsure of or fearful that you might fail?  You might not make it and you don’t know what’s over the next hill?

Reflections.

Sorry it’s been so long since I posted.  We are currently in Aswan, Egypt awaiting the bikes coming over on the ferry from Sudan and since I finally have time to post stuff I thought I’d look through some of my old blogs I had planned to post but didn’t have quite enough time.  I’m leaving the text exactly how it was so the attitude and feelings at the time of writing is best illustrated.  It’s been crazy to read back through them and see where we’ve been and where we are now.  Hope you enjoy. 

Nairobi, Kenya

October 6, 2011

45% of the way to Jerusalem

4591/1011 Miles Complete

            The reason one writes or blogs is for reflection; for remembering and for realizing where one has come from, where one is at, and where one is going.  So this is what I’ve decided to with this post.  Reflect; and what better place to do it than our “half way” point here in Nairobi, Kenya. 

            Stephen and I had a great conversation over dinner when we arrived here and this is what came up.

 The reality:

We probably should have never made it this far. 

When we both started this trip we didn’t have a clue about a lot.

I have now ridden about 5000 miles on a motorcycle in my life: before this trip I had ridden about 205 of them. 

I had never been off the continent of North America. 
I had never seen a “middle eastern” toilet. 

Shit, I bought my first motorcycle helmet two days before I left the U.S.

I had no idea about African roads, where most countries actually were, or anything about overland motorcycle travel. 

I didn’t really know the difference between a 4 stroke engine and 2 stroke engine or how to change the oil on our bikes. 

While I feel like my knowledge of the bikes has increased dramatically, I still don’t know that much about them. 

I don’t speak Swahili or Arabic and I’ve never had to acquire a visa in my life. 

But here I am. 

And when I sit and think about it there is very little that separates me from any other person in the U.S.  I have no more qualifications or special talents than any other typical mid 20’s American aside from a few more saved up dollars. 

But, if my bike blows up tomorrow I will be forever changed from this trip even though it’s only “halfway” done.  The trip is no longer about the distance traveled or the countries seen; it’s about the change in our attitudes and approach to life that has been tested, been tried, and strengthened in both Stephen and I throughout the last 4000+ miles. 

In Cape Town, when Stephen and I sat atop Table Mountain and looked north east and pointed in the general direction of Jerusalem, I didn’t know what to think and I don’t think I felt much of anything.  Deep down, Nairobi, let alone Jerusalem felt more than a million miles away.  I had no idea if we’d make it out of South Africa, into Botswana, or how far we’d make it.  The only feelings I seemed to conjure up was those of little to no confidence and zero assurance which left me with a discomfort that all of us would prefer to avoid.  This unknown so often becomes the hurdle few will jump over; for fear of falling, or probably more so the fear of not knowing where to go after it and wondering if there are bigger, harder hurdles further down the road. 

The truth is:  I was scared.  The morning I woke up the day I left the U.S. I awoke early before my girlfriend and family and was alone; and for the first time fear really hit me in the face.  I had no idea what the next 4 months with only a motorcycle, a bag, on a completely foreign continent would bring.  I felt fear stronger than I had ever before in my life. 

But, I knew I had to get dressed, get on a plane, and try to do something that really had just turned into a sentence of “I’m gonna try to motorcycle across Africa”, which I had no grasp of what that actually meant.     

And thank God I did.  I’ve experience things that I’d only previously dreamed about and moments we most often precede with “it would be so cool to”.  With the push a great friend and support from an unbelievable family I tried what so many warned against (with good intentions) and it made all the difference.  So many doubted or questioned the trip with legitimate reason, but thank God I didn’t let those fears stop me. I could be back home safe in my bed right now, but instead I drove like a maniac through Nairobi, Kenya today and am now sweating in a tent at a campground.  But my soul is alive. 

I’ve been blessed to grasp the same feelings I got to see my best friend experience this past summer.  During his pursuit to become a Navy Seal he pushed through countless obstacles from giving up a career in baseball, having a chest injury going into arguably the hardest physical training in the world, and other issues with paperwork J). But he did it, not only becoming Seal, but graduating as the Honor Man (top of class). 

I, like him, aren’t absent of fear at all.  I felt it greatly the morning of August 19th and still feel it almost everyday.  But, this trip has just been a lesson in learning to not let that fear paralyze our desires and control our dreams.

Should I be here?  Most people would say probably not.  Shoot, we are even becoming known within the overland community here are the crazy Americans; this coming from people who have been to 70+ countries and have unbelievable stories.  The thing people can’t get over is that we never rode bikes before this trip.  But, this craziness has garnered a respect from them. Why? Not sure, but I think they admire (and maybe even a little jealous of) the attitude of not knowing everything but not letting that stuff you and just going for it and seeing what happens.   

I’m so grateful I had a great friend next to me who pushed me to conquer all the fear that surrounded this journey and help me through the time it was much easier to give in and take the comfortable safe option of staying home.  We took the path less traveled and it has made all the difference. 

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.

- Mother Teresa