Whiting column: Graduation is a start — not a finish

Bryan Whiting
Personal Responsibility
Bryan Whiting.

Graduation hasn’t changed much from mine on the covered wagon.

It’s a strange dichotomy of four years of achievement and a future of decisions and responsibilities: What should I do? What’s the secret to success?

It’s time to take command of your own life.

Your future isn’t up to parents, teachers, friends, government, someone on Facebook or a Kardashian. It’s up to you. Students expressed they were glad to graduate, so they would stop making bad decisions. Sorry to disappoint you, but age isn’t an insulation against mistakes, errors in judgment.

Even adults in high positions make bad decisions.

General Custer: “There aren’t enough Indians in the world to defeat the 7th Cavalry.” Or errors in judgment. Captain of the Exxon Valdez that ran aground in Alaska: “This ship drives itself; I’ll have another drink before I go to work.” We haven’t started talking about politicians. Or regular people; folks like to go camping in Yellowstone, forgetting that people in sleeping bags are Grizzlies’ soft tacos.

As you age, you learn how to deal with mistakes. It’s a waste of time to hide it, blame others or something else. It’s better to admit, apologize, make it right and learn. In other words, take command.

It requires motivation, and it must be self-motivation. You can’t wait for someone to motivate you. Your most effective leader is you. An underappreciated factor in self-motivation is preparation. You can’t stop practicing-learning-preparing. If you stop, not only are you standing still, but also others are passing you.

Preparation can be inefficient. Paul was a runner who entered the desert marathon in Monument Valley. He was jogging in place at the starting line holding a car door. The starter asked Paul what he was doing. He responded, “When I get hot, I’m rolling down the window.”

A better example of purposeful preparation occurred on Noah’s Ark. After floating around a long time, the animals were getting restless. They decided to have a football game. The tiger and monkey chose sides. The first play: monkey handing off to the rhino — result touchdown. They stopped the tiger’s team who had to punt. The monkey handed off to the rhino — another touchdown.

This continued to halftime. The first play of the second half, guess what? The monkey handed off to the rhino. There was a violent collision: a cloud of dust with the rhino stopped behind the line of scrimmage and fumbling. Off the bottom of the pile crawled the centipede. Overjoyed, the tiger ran out saying “Great tackle, where were you the first half?” “I was still tying my shoes.”

Do the work. It enables you to be excellent, to do something that matters. It enables you to do the difficult, not having to settle for the easy. Want a sense of accomplishment? Do something difficult. Remember, if you can only do what everyone can do, you will be paid accordingly. You shouldn’t relegate yourself to that.

Taking command requires personal responsibility. It’s you. My parents taught me the concept. Turning eight, Dad gave me my first rifle. A single shot .22. He taught me to shoot, firearm safety and we didn’t shoot things for sport; only for food or to protect our animals.

One day, out scouting the ranch for whatever vicious creatures might be around, a sparrow landed on a barbed-wire fence. I pulled down and shot. It was that sparrow’s unlucky day. I didn’t have the ability to hit the sparrow from 10 yards, but I did. Grabbing the sparrow, I ran to find Dad and showed him where I shot. He was excited, extolling the difficulty of the shot and his pride in my ability. His final comment: “Now take the sparrow inside. Your mother will show you how to pluck the feathers, clean it, and she’ll cook it for your lunch.” I learned personal responsibility.

Life is simple. If you’re not happy, don’t whine — do something about it. If you want to quit smoking, throw them in the trash. Develop your own career, or a job will find you. Want to be successful? Obtain a marketable skill, and work your butt off. You aren’t entitled to success because you have a diploma, degree or because you showed up. You must do the work, not just talk about it.

Craig, a construction worker, sat down for lunch with his co-workers. Opening his lunch box, he complained, “Damn, bologna sandwiches. I’m sick and tired of this. It’s eight days of bologna sandwiches.” His co-worker responded, “Why don’t you ask your wife to make something different?” “What wife? I’m not married; I make my own sandwiches.”

Your country provides you the opportunity to obtain a free education, choose your career path, to possess work ethic and earn the rewards that come with it. But with opportunity comes responsibility and self-determination. It’s up to you. If you feel you need more, choose to get off your butt to make a buck.

One summer, home from college, I complained to my Dad about not having enough money. He asked what I had been doing the last three hours. My response: watching a baseball game on TV. He didn’t say a word, just turned and walked away. I needed to get off my butt to make a buck.

If we make excuses, they can end up biting us.

Eric and Norm were heading to Denver for a Rockies game. Eric was driving. Almost there, he was pulled over for speeding. He argued, “Not true, I am an upstanding citizen, teacher, coach, family man and never speed. Just ask Norm, he’ll tell you.” Norm’s reply: “Don’t ask me. I learned long ago never to argue with Eric when he’s been drinking.”

Graduating from high school is a significant achievement, but it’s a first step, a start. It doesn’t determine your future. The future is still in your hands.

In my high school, Marcie’s father was a mean drunk and died in a car wreck when she was a sophomore. Her mother died of cancer the summer before her senior year, but she maintained a 4.0 GPA. Putting off college for a year until her younger sister graduated, Marcie persevered, graduating from ASU as a lawyer. For my fraternity brother Mike, it was nip and tuck whether he was going to graduate or go to prison first. He became a member of the Secret Service.

Another, Steven, was a student senator, but ended up in prison and probably dead in Turkey for drug trafficking. Rick had a 4.0 in college biochemical engineering, was an Upton Research Scholar but drank two-fifths of Scotch a day. He died playing cards in our fraternity house. The coroner said his liver gave out.

As you can see, what they did in high school didn’t predict their future; it just provided them with a basis. Their future was a function of their choices, their actions. You can decide to overcome obstacles. Every family, every person has obstacles.

Scott had a young son, who had to write a report on his family’s history. He came home and asked Scott, “Where did I come from?” Scott hadn’t discussed such things with his son yet, so he bailed out and said, “Stork.” The next day his son asked, “Where did you come from?” Scott answered “Stork” again. “What about grandpa?” Scott went with “Stork” again. The teacher was concerned when the first line of the son’s report was, “There’s hasn’t been a normal birth in my family in three generations.”

You’re graduating. It’s time to begin fulfilling potential. It’s nice when someone says you have potential, but there comes a time when it isn’t. You don’t want to return for your 10-year reunion and have people say you have potential. It’s your personal responsibility. You — each one of you — are the one.

Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.