Hello! My name is Michael Simpson and I am one of two music teachers for the Neah-Kah-Nie School District in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. I hope I’m doing this right, for this is my first post here. Last week, I had the honor of speaking at the induction ceremony for new members of the Neah-Kah-Nie High School chapter of the National Honors Society. I was asked by Watt Childress to post the written version of my speech here. Thank you for the invitation, Watt. I’m flattered by your positive comments. Here it is:
As I look upon you fine people, my heart bursts with joy. Several years have I known some many of you who are being recognized tonight. My joy is bittersweet, knowing that I will miss you wonderful kids as you will soon become adults in the real world, though my happiness is more sweet than bitter knowing how much you’ve already accomplished in your young lives. It is not by sheer luck that you have been chosen for this honor. You are no strangers to being organized, to working hard, and to setting goals. . .and after reaching those goals, to setting new ones. But in my opinion, the one thing that separates you from other academically skilled students at this school is your service. Helping. Lending a hand to others, even when they don’t ask for your help. I think it’s great that many of you have experienced the act of giving as many kids have never taken the opportunity, but I have one question for you. You can answer it to yourself, if you like. My question is: Why? Why serve? Why help? Why go out of your way to do something nice for someone else, especially if you think that person doesn’t even deserve your help?
Think about it for a moment. Think about your own experiences. Does it make you feel happy to help others? My bet’s that it probably does. Why does it make us feel good? Do we enjoy inspiring smiles on the faces of the people who need us? Do we feel like we’re better than others by taking the time? I’ve heard some young people serve others for various reasons: “I want it to look good on my college applications” or, “Maybe I’ll get a higher paying job if an employer sees this on my resume.” Maybe even some kids did it just to be able to get into Honor Society. Young kids and even adults who did not learn earlier on do good things for the wrong reasons. Yet, these people still served others. And maybe once involved in the act, they realized what it truly meant. One of my favorite people to have ever existed on this earth once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi. He was rad. I believe I think what he meant was that you find something inside of you that you don’t know exists until you show it to others by helping them.
Service benefits everyone. I’m sure you’ve heard a phrase like that before. Or maybe you’ve heard that you help yourself as much as others when serving. I think it’s a kind of cheesy way to put it, even though I said something very similar just a month ago at the Rockaway Lions Dinner. I know I like to ramble on and I’m sure some of you who know me may be surprised that I wrote any of this speech out at all rather than just taking to my usual style of “freewheeling’” it. I will honestly tell you this: By taking sincere, thoughtful time to create this speech, I not only discovered more about serving, but I am also discovering it right now at this very moment while speaking to you.
A little earlier, I asked the question, “Why go ‘out of the way’ for someone who doesn’t ‘deserve’ your help?” Well, I have two things to say. The first is a question and the second thing is a quote.
First of all, who is anyone to judge others as “deserving?” Should people judge you in the same way without knowing who you are and what you have endured? I sometimes look back on my own experiences and find those moments where my life could have taken an awful turn had I not been lucky or made a wrong decision, even with the best of intentions.
Secondly, serving someone else doesn’t require you go “out of your way”, if service is your way. Another one of my favorite human beings of all time put it so eloquently, “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time.” Marian Wright Edelman. Look her up. She’ll be your hero, too.
What I love most is that you don’t have to be a hero to serve. No matter what little you do of it. It still helps whether it be a grandiose or subtle gesture. But, you’re either serving or not. People always make excuses for not getting involved by saying things like, “I really try to make time to volunteer, but I just get so busy.” For those of you who have found your way, I applaud you. Please continue to serve. For those of you who “try” and yet, fail to make time to serve, I give you the famous words of one of my childhood mentors, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” If you don’t know who said that, well. . .you can borrow the dvd.
Earlier I also asked why service makes everyone involved so happy. Do you want to know why I think it makes both the server and the recipient overwhelmingly joyful? It is because of the connection between the two that is found and reinforced by the act itself. When we serve, we are reminded of that connection with not only one human nor just a handful, but with all of humankind. Notice how I didn’t say we create the connection? How can we create something that is already there? All service does is strengthen that bond we’ve always had. It makes us feel happy because we know that we are not alone. We’re in it together, forever. . .all of us.
Thank you and congratulations.