Friday, May 28, 2010

The Future

Embracing the Future with Wisdom, Courage and Hope

Speech for the Anguilla Day weekend to the students of the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School in Assembly on Friday 28 May 2010
by Don Mitchell CBE QC

Good morning, girls and boys, ladies and gentlemen.

I have been asked to speak to you today for a few minutes on the topic, “Embracing the Future with Wisdom, Courage and Hope”.  Now, I ask you the question, who could have dreamed up a boring topic like that for me to address you on?  Whoever it was, obviously has forgotten what it is to be a school girl or school boy.  Did they ever have to stand in the hot sun at Assembly and listen to an old man talking for 15 minutes on some mindless, moronic motto? 

When I was under ten years of age, all I could think about was playing games and getting into fights.  And, when I was under eighteen, all I could think about was members of the opposite sex.  At no time when I was in school did I embrace the Future, whether with Wisdom, Courage or Hope.  So, I do not see how I can realistically persuade you to do so now.

However, I accepted the challenge given to me by the principal to talk to you on something related to the topic.  And, so, I am resolved to speak to you about some of my thoughts on the Future, Wisdom, Courage and Hope.

When I was a school boy of 15 years of age, I frequently wondered at what the future held for me.  At nights I used to lie in bed praying fervently, “Dear God, please just let me have a little glimpse of what lies in the future for me, and I promise I will go to Church every Sunday for the rest of my life.”  I strained to see through the darkness, tossing and turning in bed with desperation.  But, not a spark of light on the future would shine for me. 

Sometimes, I would cry myself to sleep wondering what would become of me.  Would I be thrown out of school, to go and work as a day-labourer like some of my friends had been?  I knew I was not bright like some of my classmates, and bound to excel at University.  Throughout my school life, I confess I seldom came in the top half of my class.

In the classroom, I used to find the bright sunlight and passing figures visible through the window next to me fascinating.  Most of my time in the classroom was spent day-dreaming.  A pity they don’t let us take exams in day-dreaming.  I would have come first on that subject.  At the end of the class, sometimes I would have to turn to my neighbour and ask, “Boy, what he teach us about today?”  I had not learned a thing.  But, they say children are brighter nowadays.  I am sure that never happens to you.

When I had done my CXC exams of those days, I went on to an A-Level college to do my equivalent of CAPE.  From there I went on to Law School to study law, and I became a barrister and solicitor, and worked at that profession for over 30 years.  I am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my work.  I studied everything I could find about the law.  I read all the laws affecting Anguilla over and over again.  I made myself a master of the law in order to be able to do a good job of advising my clients.

But, if you had told me at sixteen that I had to face the Future with Wisdom, I would probably have spat in your face.  What wisdom could I have at that age?  Wisdom comes with old age and grey hairs.  We can be sure that Wisdom will come to most of us, eventually.  It will be with Wisdom that we will look back at our early, mistake-filled years.  We must not let that upset us.  At least, Wisdom will come.

If you had told me, lying there in bed, night after night, trembling and crying with terror at what the unknown future held in store for me, that I must show Courage, I would likely have pelted a stone at you.  Courage is something we try to show in the face of danger.  Courage we can show when we face an operation, or the risk of death.  We can face the thought of the possibly bad outcome of the surgery with Courage.  That is because we know that the outcome is largely beyond our control. 

It is different when we are facing an uncertain future that we know depends largely on the choices we make today.  Will we make the right choices, ones that will help us prepare for the workplaces we will join and the families we will create?  Don’t they understand how difficult it is for a student, seething with hormones, and paralysed by lack of self-confidence, to face an uncertain future with Courage?  When as teenagers we try to face the future with what little Courage we can summon, they call us foolish and thoughtless.  The reality is that they do not congratulate us when we show lack of fear or concern at the unknown paths that lie hidden in the mist in front of us.

Hope is different.  Hope is a longing, a wishing for a better future.  Every one of us is entitled to Hope.  We can all believe in Hope, without fear of having our self-confidence trampled on. 

But, now let us speak of planning for Success.  Sixty-three years of struggling with life has taught me that Success will take a little more than pretty platitudes and moronic mottos.  Experience has taught me that every one of us can be successful in the unknown future that life presently holds hidden from us.  Except for those boys who aspire to be drug dealers, or the girls whose biggest dream is to be a Paris Hilton, success at life will take hard work and self-discipline.  Except for the most brilliant of us, success in life will take concentration and a lot of luck.  It will also take enthusiasm.  Whatever the future brings to you, learn to enjoy it.  The surest way to achieve Success is to like whatever you are doing.

Some of us have fewer worries.  Some of us were born with golden spoons in our mouths.  Those of us who were born with the golden spoons of loving parents; a happy home environment; a hard-working, loyal and loving father; a warm and caring mother; family and friends who encourage us all our lives to aim for the stars, are the lucky ones.  Most of us are not so lucky.  Most of us are born and grow up with the odds of success stacked up against us.  Some of us have an alcoholic mother; others a lazy, indifferent father; some of us are told from the time we know ourselves that we are dirty, ugly, and useless.  Most of us get no encouragement from our teachers or our parents; nobody read books to us as little children, sparking our curiosity and a love for learning.  The future they see for most of us is one of dead-end jobs, paying little or nothing. 

But, sheer Willpower can overcome all the disadvantages of both nature and nurture that we were born to and grow up with.  With Willpower we can force ourselves to sit at that desk, hour after hour, day after day, learning our lessons and preparing for the exams.  There comes a time when the biggest day-dreamer has to say to himself, “If I am going to take care of myself and my future family when I grow up, I have to get a good education to ensure me a good job.”  I know all that estrogen and testosterone swirling in the air around you are distracting.  But, you have to decide that there are some hours when the Devil himself will not be permitted to take your attention away from the books.

I was not so lucky to have been born with brains, so I made up for the lack by Hard Work.  If I was only half as bright as those around me, I knew what I had to do.  If my school friends studied for 6 hours, I studied for 12 hours.  If my friends went to work for 8 hours a day to earn a living, I worked for 16 hours, just to stay even.  If my friends saved 10% of their income to build up their investments, I saved 20%.  If my wife loved me and was loyal to me, I loved her back and was loyal to her twice as much.  This November, we will have been together 42 years.  Hard Work and perseverance will win out over brains any day.

As you face the future, I assure you that it is okay if you cannot find much wisdom or courage in you.  What is required of you is different.  Be fearful all you must about the uncertain future that awaits you.  But show absolute determination that, whatever comes, you will give it your 100%, and never accept sloppy, careless work coming from yourselves.  I promise you this, if you work to develop the Self-Discipline to study hard for your exams, you will have climbed the first ladder to Success in life.  Nobody can hold you back if you develop a burning ambition to succeed at whatever goal you will one day set for yourselves.  The Future is yours for the taking.  Nobody is going to just give Success to you.  You are going to have to equip yourselves to grab it all. 

They want me to tell you this, just make sure you do so with Wisdom, Courage and Hope.