MCayou By MCayou, 10th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
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I wrote and delivered this speech for a National Honor Society induction ceremony. Although a wee bit lengthy, several ideas needed to be developed.

Speech on leadership...


This is the speech I delivered for the National Honor Society induction ceremony a few years back. Pardon the length, but I tend to be long-winded – at times.

Thank you, Ms. _____ and members of the National Honor Society for asking me to speak today. A hearty “congratulations” to this year’s inductees on this accomplishment. An accomplishment, mind you, that is by no means the culmination of, or end point for your efforts. No, today marks the beginning of a journey. You have been set on a path that, if walked with care and diligence, will have an impact on the rest of your lives, and the lives of countless others.

In consideration of what has brought you here today – your efforts focused around the four fundamental elements, or pillars of the National Honor Society – Scholarship, Character, Service, and Leadership, you all need to look in the mirror and ask, “Am I ready? Am I prepared? Do I have what it takes to be successful upon this road?” Many people believe so, or you would not be here today. In addition to that, I can let you in on a little secret that will come in handy – quality footwear! That’s right, decent shoes. That is exactly why I want to tell you about -these shoes.

Four and a half years ago, I needed a new suit for an occasion. I hadn’t planned on buying a new pair of shoes – I had adequate shoes. But the salesman did what any good salesman would do, he took advantage of a grieving son whose father had just died. So I ended up with these very shoes – an outward expression of honor – for my dad. S*** Cayou was a titan of a man who embodied the pillars of National Honor Society by being a molder of character, a servant to his community, and a leader of men as a high-ranking Denver Police officer. But today isn’t about my dad; it’s more about these shoes.

Ten months after Dad’s funeral, I had an opportunity to put them on again, to attend the funeral of the man my folks had chosen to serve as my godfather. The ONLY man, out of many who had asked over the years, the ONLY man to ever earn my dad’s recommendation for employment with the police department. This recommendation was based on an intellectual fire, an unshakeable strength of character, and limitless leadership potential. But today isn’t about that man either; it’s really more about these shoes.

Last summer I put these shoes on for the third time, to honor a man who had a tremendous impact on all of us here, much closer to home. To this day, and for many, many more to come, we miss the brilliant mind, the character, the service to our community, and the leadership that Randy Wilson so willingly gave. But, with regret, today isn’t about Mr. Wilson. It comes back, yes, to these shoes, that I had callously and cynically begun to refer to as “my funeral shoes.”

They took on added purpose, however, just this past January when we were visited by Mr. Eric Cahn, the holocaust survivor. I felt honored to be able to meet and speak with and learn from a man who is truly living history. I know we were all touched and impressed by the quiet strength of this man who had endured a childhood and a young adulthood that many of us found hard to imagine. Without a doubt, I was inspired by his service to our community, in the form of bearing witness to the atrocities of Nazi Germany and encouraging us all to never turn a blind eye or deaf ear to prejudice and oppression, no matter the scale or scope on which we encounter it. I was very glad, then, that I had decided to wear the shoes and set them on a much more positive path and began to see them as “my honor shoes.” But once again, we are not necessarily here to pay our respects to these fine individuals who have embraced the National Honor Society pillars. I have seized this opportunity to wear these shoes for only the fifth time to honor this year’s inductees because clearly, today is about – that’s right – these shoes!

No! It’s not! Today is not about my shoes. It’s not about my dad’s shoes or Mr. Wilson’s shoes. Today we assemble to recognize Mikala’s shoes, Rae Lynn’s shoes, Shawn’s, Taylor’s, Tyler’s, and Thomas’s shoes. Today is about the shoes of the current members of National Honor Society, the shoes of your teachers, and yes, it’s about your shoes.

Look, at the risk of sounding patronizing or condescending, I’m not talking about the physical, literal slabs of leather wrapped around my flippers. I’m talking about what I have chosen to have these shoes symbolize, what I have chosen to have them stand for, what I have personally identified as important and honorable; the four pillars of National Honor Society and the establishment of these pillars in the lives of today’s inductees. In turn, I’m talking about the academic effort, the shoes of honest intention that these students have chosen to wear. These efforts have resulted in significant accomplishments in the classroom and all around us here on campus and beyond.

These efforts toward academic growth have given rise to the pillar of character. For me, perhaps the large shoe rack on which the other three pillars feel secure enough to develop, and to be ready when needed. By realizing the importance of academics, not for the sake of a letter grade, but for the sake of improving as an individual, your peers here have made conscious choices and decisions that have propelled them toward the top of their classes. These choices have begun to develop character. Now character is an interesting concept – an abstract concept – that is perhaps a wee bit elusive to grasp. Character can be strong or weak, good or bad, helpful or harmful. Here’s how I see it; I equate strong character with integrity – another concept that escapes some – but for me – integrity is doing the right thing when nobody else is looking. All of us are faced with choices and decisions, and I truly believe that we all have a solid grasp on what will benefit us, versus create frustration and turmoil. These individuals, like many of you, choose to clarify directions, instructions, and expectations to avoid confusion. They choose to study those clarified notes instead of watch TV half the night. They choose to brainstorm ideas onto a piece of paper that will be shaped into a draft of the essay that is due, not first thing in the morning, but maybe later in the week. They choose to assist a friend, brother or sister, even a parent instead of mope and complain about how tough they have it. This mind-set of doing what is right instead of what is easy or fun or what everybody else is doing, is character. Look at it this way, through this thread of thought from an unknown author:

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words.

Watch your words, for they become actions.

Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

We all have a destiny. Some of us may have arrived there already; some of us may be actively and aggressively walking our path toward it; some of us still can’t spell it, let alone think about its impact on us, and that’s OK. Regardless of the roads we must travel to successfully reach our destinies, I believe that shoes laced up tight with integrity and sound character are critical to support that journey.

I am going to digress here for a moment, something all of my students are used to, as I was recently reminded of the darker side of character. As this year’s inductees are welcomed into the ranks of National Honor Society, they are not going to be physically abused or publicly humiliated. They are not going to be demeaned, devalued, or belittled in any way. And they are certainly not going to be tattooed or branded or subjected to any other form of hazing. Many groups or organizations, both formally and informally structured, as well as teams assembled for various purposes, participate in ritual hazing – a traditional right of passage into the group. Members of questionable character engage in hazing simply because it was done to them. Strong reasoning! My blood boils when I see a person subjected to physical discomfort, even pain, all for the privilege of fitting in. Any group, insistent on perpetuating a barbaric and hurtful tradition, does not deserve you! Dig in your heels, the heels of your character shoes, boots, or cleats, and say, “No! I will not be abused just for the right to abuse others in years to come!” And for any member of a group who willingly tortures his fellow man – check your own shoes – they’ve come untied.

When we take a moment to ask ourselves if we are about to make the best or right choice, we sometimes realize that we may need a little help. Let’s be honest; as much as we all think, at times, that we would be better off if everybody would just leave us alone, we simply cannot make it in this world alone. English priest and poet John Donne said it best; “No man is an island.” Advice, support, and encouragement are integral to our development as humans. Some people are more comfortable than others in seeking it out, and some people are more comfortable that others providing it. A large part of a person’s character is his or her willingness to be of service to others. Coincidentally, this is yet another pair of shoes National Honor Society members must wear. How poetic to step into your service shoes to actually provide shoes, if necessary, to someone less fortunate. To paraphrase Irish writer Oscar Wilde, “Live the poetry you cannot write; let others write the poetry they dare not live.” In other words, let your actions speak the intentions of your heart. Put yourself in another’s shoes and walk where others fear to tread.

When these National Honor Society members, as well as any of us here today, combine the effort of academic excellence – which is directed by character – to a sensitivity for helping others, there is a pretty good chance that someone else may take notice, be inspired to do the same, see the value and rewards of these pillars. That inspiration, whether loudly and clearly verbalized, or quietly exhibited through honorable actions, is called leadership; the fourth and culminating pillar of National Honor Society.

Now I wish I could tell you that these shoes are comfortable. They are not! I associate them with loss and pain; the emotional pain only made more prominent by the heel blisters they almost immediately begin to rub. But thankfully, I can now add hope and honor to their soul, while still being reminded of the sacrifice. I wish I could be assured that they are stylish or fashionable. Frankly, I don’t care! So why wear them? Because they fit. They fit occasions such as this. They fit my sense of respect for and admiration of individuals who strive to put their best foot forward, for their own sake and for the sake of others.

Current NHS members and today’s inductees; you all will, as some of you already have realized that YOUR shoes will not be easy to wear. They will require sacrifice for the service of others. They will require mental strength and perseverance in the pursuit of knowledge. They will require courage to step forward and lead the way. And they will require the unbreakable laces of character to keep the pillars firmly grounded in your hearts and in your actions.

But you will wear them and you will wear them proudly. Why? Because they fit. They fit who you are as individuals; they fit who you are striving to become as leaders; and most importantly, they fit your visions of the adults you see yourselves becoming; the destinies you see yourselves fulfilling. Needless to say, you have big shoes to fill, but as members of National Honor Society, part of your destiny IS to fill them, to the very best of your capabilities. Learn passionately – Serve humbly – Lead compassionately – and live honorably.

Congratulations once again to this year’s inductees, and to Ms.___ and the members of National Honor Society, thank you for the opportunity to share with you today. For the rest of us: students, parents, faculty, staff and administration, I ask you; What kind of shoes are you wearing? What kind of shoes will you be slipping into tomorrow? Regardless of the specifics of what you choose to wear down the road of life, keep in mind my simple hope that once you find the shoes that fit you, may you never wear them out.


Leadership, Respect And Understanding, Responsibility, Service, Speech, Speech Writing, Speeches

Meet the author

author avatar MCayou
As a retired English teacher, I have much to say on topics from education to psychology to societal influences.

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author avatar Stella Mitchell
10th Oct 2013 (#)

I say a big Amen to all of this .
Well done MCayou.
God bless you

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