Commencement Speech


It seems there are graduation ceremonies these days for everything. Pre-K; K1; 5th grade; 8th grade, and the standard high school and college graduations. I predict that in 20 years, every grade will have a graduation since we need to celebrate that little Johnny actually had the strength and fortitude to stay in school all year and pass the 4th grade grind of paper mache and recess.

I was having a conversation yesterday with a bestie who’s 6th grade daughter is one of the most unique; independent; witty and self aware kids I’ve ever met (if she and Oz ever decide to marry, I’d be a happy mama.) But of course, these character traits are not valued in the 6th grade by others, sometimes she doesn’t fit in. As adults, we’ve understood that we’ll all go through times where WE don’t fit in and it’s usually a good thing. But it’s tougher when we’re young, I understand that. I remember. I got iced out a lot. Still do sometimes, that’s cool.

In honor of the lovely Delaney and the independent young people around the globe that, as we all know in later stages of our lives, will set the world on fire; here is the commencement speech I wish I would have heard at her age:

Thank you, faculty of Just Trying To Make It Out of Here Middle School, for the opportunity to share my wisdom with you. I’m not one for small talk, and who wants to sit here all day listening to me anyway, so we’ll get down to brass tacks.

First off, I’d like all of you to look around the room at your classmates. Take a close look. What feeling do you have when you see the person who has teased you; or pushed you into a locker; or taken great care to embarrass you in public. Now look at someone who has been kind to you; has loaned you a number 2 pencil at a critical moment in your life; has shared their lunch because you were short a dime in the lunch line and Atilla the Hun lunch lady won’t even give you an apple to eat so you can function the rest of the day. What do you feel now?

Look beyond your classmates at your teachers. Have they taught you anything of importance? Can you now find on a map the location of some obscure ancient city in the jungles of South America or did you fail that test and had to stay after school on the first 60 degree day of spring? Did they teach you how to read a road map so you can navigate for mom as she’s driving you around from soccer practice to LAX to softball whilst throwing drive-thru food at you in between stops so you have the energy to run around the bases? What do you feel when you see the teacher who just didn’t seem to be able to stop yelling at you. Or the teacher who just didn’t seem to be able to look up from their computer while bidding on summer Vacation spots on the E-Bay, what do you feel?

Fondess, thankfulness, fear, loathing, anger, respect, admiration, overwhelmed, friendship…all these and more wrapped up in one school year that seemed to take forever but suddenly is finished. Feel it…and remember this,

The people who want to make you feel small and insignificant, they are doing that because it’s how THEY feel. The people who see you sitting by yourself and don’t come up to talk to you, they do this because of THEIR fear that they may have to sit alone at some point in life. The people who push you in the hallway, they do this either because they fear being pushed themselves or are psychopaths who will be (hopefully) in jail at some point. Good luck to them. The point is this: you are NOT placed on this earth to be an extension of someone else’s fear. YOU are placed on this earth for a specific purpose; a reason, one that you may not understand today but KNOW THIS: It is NOT to take someone else’s fears and make them your own. This applies to classmates; friends; family, and someday maybe even a spouse. YOU, are too special for that. YOU, count too much for that. 

They, the others, don’t want you to know that. They want you to believe that you’re not worth their time or good enough to be in their circle of trust. That something is wrong with YOU. But know this, it is not reality. THEY. FEAR. YOU. They fear your independence, your individuality, how you just don’t seem to fit the mold of what they think is important. Your ability to think for yourself, to NOT FIT IN. It’s scary. Why aren’t YOU filled with the same fear as them? 

They know who they are. They can feel it right now. The shame, the fear, wanting to strike out to take these feelings away. So this is for you, the fearful: let it out. You will waste years of your life being scared, let it go. You may not have the courage today, that’s ok. It takes a very strong person at your age to become accountable, to say you’re sorry. To decide that the fear YOU live in isn’t fun anymore. You are going through a hard time too, I know. There may be areas in your world that are not safe and you don’t know what to do with that. You don’t know how to ask for help, I understand that. What if you speak up and still aren’t able to get help? Does that mean that YOU’RE not worth it? No. No, no, NO! Never stop asking for help, someone is there. But that quirky kid sitting next to you who you’ve unleashed your fear on? They’re done. They now know that this is on you and has nothing to do with them. They are no longer available to take on your fear. I’m sorry I’m not sorry.

Look around again, at those around you, do you see friendly faces? That’s good. My hope for you is that you always see friendly faces as you go through life. Some of you may be friends as adults but the truth is, most will not. Know this now, people will come and go throughout your lifetime. Dear friends move away, college room-mates go back home and suddenly you’ll realize that the person you didn’t think you could live without is only a fond memory (and you’ll probably find each other 20 years from now on the Facebook anyway.) That’s okay. Don’t let fear of an unknown future sit in YOUR heart. Be an adventurer, an explorer, someone who welcomes new faces and new challenges. 

Most importantly, know this: your heart and your mind is your own. If you share it with others who do not value it, move on. They never will. That’s on them. Leave them to live in their own fear while you seek the good in your life.

And lastly, know this: you will not always succeed. You will not always fail. You will not always be in love, or have good friends, or have a job, or a home or anything else that you think you will always have. You are not guaranteed anything in life that YOU WON’T WORK FOR. If your life is not as you wish, change it. WORK HARD, at your school; at your job; in your relationships; for your community.


If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.

Tom Stoppard

About tosabarbell

For training opportunities at tosabarbell, call or text Juli at 320-296-9313. e-mail to At tosabarbell, I build relationships cultivated in a strength and learning environment. There is no 12 week magic pill program to strength but rather a lifetime commitment to be the very best and most useful human you can be. tosabarbell is a private, home grown gym with three lifting platforms; squat rack; prowlers; throwing implements; bars, bumpers and everything else needed for an effective strength and conditioning program. Straightforward barbell programming including the Olympic lifts; sound (read: not fancy bullshit) diet advance for weight gain or loss; and strong coaching will ensure you will meet your goals such as becoming stronger, more explosive, and better conditioned. I have been coaching teams and athletes for over 30 years. I grew up participating in various sports at various levels but was always drawn to those that require strength training. I have multiple local, national, and world records in the sports of Weightlifting and Highland Games Heavy Events as well as a combined total of 5 World Championships. My 5 years of training and coaching under Mark Rippetoe provided a wide range of influence from some of the top strength & conditioning and throwing coaches in the country. I will strongly encourage tosabarbell athletes to compete (and prepare you to do so.) However, tosabarbell is also for those who wish to be stronger and go through life feeling better. Matt WanAt is a retired Professional Strongman who competed frequently with Strongman Champions League in Europe. He played a year of D1 football with Iowa before concentrating on his Chemical Engineering degree in Iowa City. He is a native of Wauwatosa and still remains a staunch supporter of Tosa East. This blog will be a mixture of strength notes, coaching and nutrition tips, personal shit; bacon delicacies, and a whole lot of fun.
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