(PUB. NOTE: The following keynote speech was given during Graduation ceremonies at Hancock Co. High School on Sat., May 25, 2019, by Reggie Keaton, an attorney with the Knoxville law firm of Frantz, McConnell and Seymour, LLP. Mr. Keaton is also a graduate of HCHS.)
Good morning! It’s good to see everyone, it is a pleasure to be with you, and thank you for allowing me to be your graduation speaker.
Congratulations on getting your high school diploma! Just think what you have had to do to get here.
You have had to go to school for at least 13 years, almost your entire life thus far. By my calculation you’ve spent more than 2,000 days in school. You have probably taken hundreds, maybe thousands, of tests.
So now here you are, you’ve made it! You’ve passed the tests. You’ve made the grade, and now you are getting your diploma.
I think it’s time to celebrate.
Once you get your diploma, you and I will always have something in common. We will always be alumni of Hancock County High School.
And as I look out over this fine-looking Class of 2019, I must say that I am proud to have this distinction in common with you.
I am confident that the education that you have received has helped prepare you for what lies ahead in your future. I know that my high school education prepared me well for college. I had great teachers when I was in high school here and I’m sure you have too.
I don’t think any of my teachers are still teaching, but I do have cousins who are teachers here, including Bobby Keaton and Danita Dodson. I also have a cousin who has been your principal, Mr. Cantwell. So, I know you have been in good hands.
When I was asked to be your graduation speaker, I wanted to find out about your class, so I talked to my cousins to get information about you. And I have discovered that you are a remarkable class.
So, I am truly honored to be able to speak to you and to share with you a few thoughts, and hopefully a few words of encouragement as you enter life after high school.
I would begin by encouraging you to always be proud of your heritage. We can all be proud of the fact that we are from Hancock County, whether you continue to live here or whether you move to live somewhere else. I am thankful to have had the privilege to grow up here. If I had had the choice, I can’t think of any other place that I would have chosen to grow up.
Although I live in Knoxville now, my mom, Annie Keaton, still lives here and I come up often to visit her. By the way, she is a Hancock County High School graduate – Valedictorian of the Class of 1956, and she worked in the high school many years.
All of the adjectives I can think of to describe people from Hancock County are positive in nature. They include honest, decent, trustworthy, friendly, diligent, commonsensical, honorable, and faithful. These are all values that were engrained in the culture here when I was growing up and I am sure are still engrained in the culture here today.
That’s not to say that Hancock County is perfect. Obviously, no place is. Just like everywhere else, there are problems and challenges that exist. And to deal with these problems and challenges we need good leaders.
And as I look at this graduating Class of 2019, there are no doubt good leaders who will step up and help address these problems and challenges and help make this community an even better place in which to live. So, I would encourage you to be willing to step up to bat, be a leader and a problem solver, and help make your community a better place, whether your community is Hancock County, or whether you decide to live somewhere else.
We all have hopes and dreams in life. That is especially true at this time in your life when you are getting ready to get your high school diploma. I know that was true for me when I graduated from high school. I know some of you are planning to go to college, some to vocational school, and some may have other plans. Whatever your plans are, I encourage you to work hard toward achieving your goals and don’t be easily discouraged when you have bumps in the road or failures along the way.
None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, we all have failures, that’s part of life. So, my advice to you is when you get knocked down, get back up, keep fighting, keep striving to reach your goals.
I would like to share a couple of stories with you to illustrate the importance of never giving up no matter what happens along your journey.
One is a Senator from Illinois whose name is Tammy Duckworth. She was a U.S. Army helicopter pilot in the Iraq War and she lost both of her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. After her injury, she declined a military medical retirement, but instead continued to drill as a Lieutenant Colonel with the Illinois National Guard. She later ran for Congress and was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and subsequently was elected to the U.S. Senate as one of Illinois’ two senators. And if that wasn’t enough, she recently became the first U.S. Senator to give birth to a baby while holding the office of U.S. Senator.
Another recent example that you may all be familiar with is Tiger Woods. Several years ago, it appeared that Tiger may be the best golfer that ever played the game. He continued to win one major golf tournament after another, including the Masters. Then he made a mess of his life, he suffered from addictions, and he also began suffering from severe orthopedic problems, including his back. He underwent multiple surgeries. It appeared that he may not ever get to play golf again, much less win a major tournament. However, after seeking treatment for his addictions, and after battling through his surgeries, he did start to play golf again, and last month he once again won golf’s most important tournament, the Masters. His philosophy was to never give up, but to always keep fighting.
These are only a couple of many inspirational examples that I could give to you of people who refuse to be defined by whatever misfortune befalls them, but instead, get back up to keep fighting to reach their goals in life.
Also, I encourage you to always stand up for what is right.
Don’t be complicit to any type of injustice or any type of mistreatment of anyone.
Have the courage to speak up as opposed to just going along with the crowd or doing whatever is convenient.
Also, don’t compromise your integrity for anybody or anything.
Never give in to any temptation to lie, cheat, or steal. Always remember that your reputation is a precious commodity, and you don’t want to do anything to tarnish it.
I would also encourage you to look for ways to do good and to help someone who needs your help.
No matter where you are, there is always someone near you who is hurting in some form or fashion, and who can benefit from your kindness, even if it is just some simple words of encouragement.
In fact, we all can use words of encouragement at times during our life.
So always be ready to extend kindness to others, especially to those who are discouraged.
Finally, I would encourage you to enjoy life.
Life is a journey and is a tremendous gift that God has given to each of us.
So, we don’t want to get caught up too much in our ambitions that we overlook what is important.
This includes our faith and family and friends.
Be thankful for family and friends, love them and enjoy spending time with them.
Also, enjoy the fun things in life.
This may include sports that you like to play, your hobbies, books, movies, music, whatever it is you enjoy.
Find ways to relax and destress.
Rest when you need to rest.
Take vacations when you have the opportunity.
As best you can, try to live a healthy and a balanced life between work and play. In the long run, this will be of great benefit to you and your family and your community.
So, Class of 2019, my charge to you is to go out there and conquer the world.
We need a cure for cancer.
We need a U.S. President from Sneedville. We’ve had presidents from Plains, Georgia and from Hope, Arkansas, so why not Sneedville, Tennessee?
But even if we don’t have someone to cure cancer or if we don’t have someone to become president, we need good teachers, good nurses, good engineers, good social workers, and good artists. And you name it, whatever job or profession that you choose, we need good ones.
So, I encourage you to go out there and do your best, don’t be easily discouraged, stand up for what’s right, do good, enjoy life, and I am sure you will make yourself, your family, and your community proud.
God Bless you and I wish all of you the best!