By Gary Brochu
Like almost all of you, I have known and followed this class for the past 18 years. My first introduction to a member of this graduating class was holding my Goddaughter soon after she was born. I think my next exposure to one of you was watching the girl across the street learning to ride her bike. Then I met and came to know a group of wonderful little girls, now young women, during travel soccer, then premier, then High School.
And, of course, there have been other, innumerable events over the years – ball games and spelling bees, concerts and award ceremonies, picnics and UpBeat weekends and, best of all, just running into you in school or in church or around town. I’ve even become accustomed to the various names different members of your class have used to address me over the years – Mr. B, Uncle G, Commish, and, on one unforgettable occasion, homey.
Now, on your last day as a Berlin High School student, I’m here to talk to you about your name. More precisely, that which is the worth behind your name – your character. The origin of the word character comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “to engrave.” Knowng this, we better understand the nature of character and how it is rendered. Like a craftsman carving an engraving, each of you is responsible for the creation of your character. And like the engraver, as you carve your character you will be less artist than artisan.
For an engraving is not the work of a single, inspired act, but is instead the persistent and repeated tracing along a predetermined course until a pattern emerges – a pattern that, once wrought, is not easily obscured or erased. Carving your character is more the product of application than it is inspiration, and less an act of imagination than one of determination.
Character is not created with a single act, no matter how brilliant or bold. It is forged in the smallest of struggles, the product of a thousand thousand strokes. Your tool for carving your character’s template lies, in the words of the poet Robert Lowell, within your “peculiar power to choose.” Ultimately, it is the choice of the fundamental over the frivolous, preferring what is true over what’s accepted, the choosing of what is right over what is easy. For within your smallest choices lies your power to create and define and reveal – a world, a life, your fate. Using the tools at your ready – the steel of courage, the consistency of kindness, the precision of truth – you have all that is needed to shape your character and determine your destiny.
But your choices must be consciously and consistently applied. For your character to serve as the template of your fate, your must carve deeply and deliberately, understanding that with every stray stoke or careless choice you risk destroying that which you worked so hard to create. Character is the sum total of your choices, your beliefs, your response to crisis and circumstance. It is what you care about. It is your commitment to others. It is both who you are and who you aspire to be. It is an appreciation that it is not enough to understand or to see your obligations clearly, but that real character demands action in the service of your beliefs and others.
Once you grasp this fundamental truth, once you understand the necessity of action on behalf of principle, you will no longer see yourself as a witness to your life, but instead as author and actor, as a catalyst of change and a source of influence. You will become in the words of Ghandi, “the change that you wish to see in this world.” A well-carved engraving allows the artisan to produce one clear image after another, and a deeply etched character enables you to engage each day honestly and bravely and compassionately.
Your character is your letter to the world; it is nothing less than the longhand of dream and the correspondence of possibility. You certainly have communicated your character clearly to me over the years. Going forward from today, resolve to carve a character that will enable you to stand for those that have fallen, right the wrongs you know and build the world that is possible – remembering that what you need to accomplish all of this already lies within you. For within your character are the seeds and signposts of your future. And it is never too late to begin. In the words of the writer George Elliot, “it is never too late to be who you might have been.” Or, I might add, too early. Let today mark the first day of who you wish to be.