Berkeley’s 2020 Baccalaureate Address

Brian Ross

BACCALAUREATE ADDRESS: Father of Ann Ross ’20 and alumnus from Berkeley class of ’76, Brian Ross, delivers the Baccalaureate address and urges seniors to transfer Berkeley’s values to future endeavors. (Photo by Catherine Amburgey)

Thank you Mr. Seivold for granting me the honor, distinction and privilege of addressing the Class of 2020. 


Graduates, I was once in your position – a student who had put in the hard work and performed the tasks to satisfy the requirements for graduation. I had earned the diploma, and I was rightly proud of that achievement. You should be proud as well. 


Since that time, I have attended Wake Forest University and FSU Law School. You will now follow in the footsteps of prior Berkeley graduates such as myself, pursuing your own collegiate and graduate school degrees. Choose to pursue your continuing academic lifepath with honor, distinction and privilege. 


Like other previous BPS graduates, you will build businesses, become community cornerstones and develop new family relationships. As you move forward, you will be tasked with managing these parallel paths of business relationships, community relationships, friendships and romantic and family relationships with the responsibilities and commitments of school, work, business, play and family. 


Moreover, all these life events will not be occurring simultaneously or with the same speed and import. These varying lifepaths will need to be managed individually and collectively.


You will, at times, come up short in your efforts. You will have failures, setbacks, mistakes, shortcomings and missed or misunderstood opportunities. It is part of our human condition and Berkeley’s religious heritage that we – students, faculty, staff, administrators and family – recognize we are imperfect beings. 


At some point, we all have a misstep, stub our toe or drop the ball. At some point, we don’t say something just right, we don’t process information just right, or we don’t hear or see something just right. 


But, successful people learn – yes, learn – to not let their imperfections, setbacks or mistakes define who they are. To the contrary, successful people learn that their individual imperfections can actually be liberating. Instead of running from or concealing their imperfections, they internally accept them, externally acknowledge them and, very importantly, apologize for them if they cause harm. Successful people continue to grow.


Graduates, part of your personal responsibility is to reflect back on your high school years, and not only learn and build upon your successes, but also to learn and build upon your failures. What did you do right; what did you do wrong; what could you do differently; what could you improve upon? If you candidly self-assess, your critical analysis of your successes will help propel you forward and your honest confrontation of your imperfections will help break the emotional shackles that can hold you back.


A few points of emphasis. 


One, don’t conflate the process of self-examination of our choice-making with a loosening of our commitment and desire to pursue excellence. Acceptance of our imperfections does not equate with abandonment of our personal and professional pledges of excellence. In actuality, the two notions dovetail together quite nicely: We need to apologize for our imperfections, but we never need to apologize for holding ourselves to high standards. In its simplest form, your future spouse, business partner or boss will not only want someone who is of the highest character, but also someone who will be understanding and comforting when one of you falls short in the pursuit of your shared vision of success or happiness. 


Two, like you and me, our Berkeley is not perfect. In prior generations, it was kinda the “cool” thing to hate one’s high school. Students would point to their school’s imperfections and rationalize those as the basis for their individual dissatisfaction or failings. But, if you’ve heard the stories of the original Berkeley campus that I attended, no school was more imperfect than Berkeley. It had no dedicated athletic fields; had no arts program; the window air conditioners would fall backwards, out of the windows; you could hear the closet shelves falling like dominoes after you firmly closed the closet doors. But those imperfections did not prevent me or the school body from loving Berkeley. To be clear, I love this school notwithstanding its imperfections. I love the institution; the quality of administrators, teachers and staff; I love the community of shared values; I love the aspirations and commitment to educational, artistic, spiritual, ethical and athletic excellence; I love the Berkeley motto, Berkeley mission, Berkeley prayer, Berkeley vision and Berkeley core values. I love how Berkeley has evolved over the half a century of my involvement with this school community. What a great ride it has been!! 


Three, one way in which Berkeley is perfect for me as a parent is that the definition of happiness or success is nowhere to be found in Berkeley’s motto, vision statement, mission statement or core values. There is an understanding that each of you graduates will need to define for yourselves as to what is your happiness or your success. Happiness or success will be found for some of you at an athletic facility, for some in a theater or art museum, for some in a hospital operating room or teacher’s classroom, for some in a conference or meeting room, for some in a house of worship, for some in the arms of a loved one. Bottom line graduates, I know Berkeley wants, and your parents want, you to find happiness and success – as you define it.


Fourth, please remember choices have consequences. The tools to achieve happiness and success have been presented to you; now you need to choose to use those tools to the fullest. And, if graduates, you ever feel lost or off center in making choices while at college, recall your playground days and the common mantra: “Ready; Set; Go”. The most important of the three is “Set”. Get Set after you are prepared and ready; Get Set before you go forward with life choices. Get Set!; whether through reflection, envisioning, brainstorming, planning, meditation or prayer. Get Set!, whether through calling your parents, grandparents or favorite sibling; calling an old BPS classmate, teacher or counselor; or even googling Berkeley Prep Core Values. Get Set! You should get set in order to maximize the likelihood of positive consequences of each of your lifepath choices. 


Fifth, I implore you to consider taking up my own personal mantra “Good things happen to good people who work hard.” While no maxim has guarantees, the notion that “Good things happen to good people who work hard” has been a truth for me from high school through law school, through my ownership and investment in businesses, through my career as an attorney and mediator, through my community endeavors and through my family relationships. To maximize your chances for success in school, work, community or love, you have to be both: a good person and a hard worker. 


You have to consciously choose to be a good person – continuously, each day, each moment – choose to be kind, respectful and optimistic, with discipline and integrity; choose to be a person who desires and pursues excellence with a dogged commitment; choose to wake up each morning with passion and positive energy. 


There is great power in choice. Choices have consequences. Your chances of achieving success and happiness are improved multifold if you make good choices. 


Part of making good choices is to choose to work hard. For each day of the rest of your lives you will have the option to choose how diligently to apply what you know, what you have learned, and what you are learning anew. Working hard is one of the few performance variables that you can control. You know your competition and others will be working hard, and if you’re not keeping up by also working hard, you’re falling behind if not failing. 


You will find that your future professors, future bosses, future business partners, future roommates and future spouses want to be associated with good people – connected with people who are committed to choosing to work hard to better the lifepaths of themselves, their friends, their future business colleagues and their future families. 


Work hard.


There may be challenging times, but it’s quite simple on how to battle those moments: re-set, recall and fall back on your core value roots.


Be a good person; make good choices; work hard. It’s what others see in you and what others want to continue to see in you and what ultimately you will want to see in yourself.


I hope you find happiness and success – as you define it. I’m confident you can find it, because: Good things happen to good people who work hard.