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You’ll have many roads to choose from in the years ahead; if I’ve done my job well you’ll choose the right road most of the time. No matter how much I try, however, you’ll be confronted with course decisions I haven’t prepared you for. About the best I can do is tell you about a general principle I’ve learned along the road and hope that it holds as true for you as it has for me. For most choices in life I’ve done better and been happier when I’ve owned the road chosen. I know, that doesn’t make any sense; let me explain.
When I was in college I took a class in ethics and I have to tell you that I rocked it. I was a superstar in that class; I was unmatched in my engagement, thoughtfulness, and insight. Most importantly, the professor loved me and it was reflected in hard, cold, awesome grades. I felt like I could do no wrong. Eventually, however, I was faced with a choice. At one point in the semester I had a sort of perfect storm of assignments; my ethics professor and various science professors colluded to swamp me with projects. Something had to give. I was talking with a friend and lamenting my situation when he cheerfully proposed a solution. He had taken the same ethics class a few years prior and remembered the specific assignment. He had scored an A on it and suggested I use his paper as a template for mine. This seemed like a perfect idea at the time…yes the fact that this was an ethics class is not lost on me. So with his paper in hand I crafted my own from his. I utilized his main arguments but wrote the paper with my tone and style. Thanks to the assist from my friend, I managed to complete my biology and chemistry assignments on time and get the ethics paper in just before the deadline; everything was hunky dory.
A week later I got the ethics paper back and on the top right corner was a big red B. It was impossible I thought; I had submitted an A paper–I had the historical proof evidenced by my friend’s paper showing a big red A and glowing comments. I leafed through my paper and got to the last page. I will always remember what my professor wrote at the bottom:
“This paper warrants some merit Chris. Do not content yourself with some merit.”
Kids, this isn’t a simple story about cheating…in an ethics class no less. Shoot, that lesson is easy to grasp; don’t do it. It’s about the bigger issue of owning the road you’re on. There are no shortcuts from the road and you certainly won’t get to where you want to be by taking someone else’s road. Everything about the road you’ve chosen says something about you. People will know the kind of person you are by the journey you’ve taken, by the choices you’ve made. In some ways it defines you. When you have made good choices and found a good road, people will come to expect more from you, perhaps even more than they expect from your friends. It’s not unfair for people to expect great things from you; it’s an honor you’ve earned so treat it as such.
Even now I see your roads diverging from mine; while it makes me sad I’m also incredibly proud. I know you’ll own your road and I can’t wait to see where it takes you.