Young adults sat in elegant white seats on a chapel lawn, dressed in dark suits and classy white summer dresses. Tall oak trees swayed gently in the breeze, shading most of the event. Beyond, a blue lake sparkled back at the sun as swans glided effortlessly across the surface. It was a beautiful May morning in Rome, Georgia that this graduating class would remember for the rest of their lives.
My right hand held the camera steady as my left hand held the weight of the heavy telephoto lens. While dialing in on my subject with the zoom ring, I felt the muscles in my face tighten and quiver as tears streamed down my cheeks. I blinked hard, squeezing my eyes shut to stop the tears, then pressed against the eye piece once more. I needed my mind to focus, to estimate the next move of my subject. My pointing finger rested slightly against the smooth shutter button and anticipated the moment to pull the trigger. Pulling the trigger would cause an abrupt explosion from the camera, a burst into action to capture the emotions of the attendees, honored guests, and the graduates of this prestigious school. This year, it was not only my job to capture memories and the faces from all over the world—17 countries, 38 states—but I was also watching my oldest son cross the stage to receive his diploma along with the one-hundred-seventeen others in his graduating class.
We listened to the Commencement address given by Raymond Murray, a distinctive and well-loved English teacher selected by the entire senior class, as he quoted speakers and authors such as Emerson, Shakespeare, Disraeli, and even Albert Schweitzer, the great doctor and Nobel Prize winner. He pointed out the common denominator of these famous people was the simple word: THINK. Mr. Murray said, “Albert Schweitzer was being interviewed and was asked, ‘What is the matter with people today?’ Albert Schweitzer was silent for a moment and then he said, ‘People don’t think!’”
The expressions of the crowd were worth several captured frames. Mr. Murray’s words were not only genuine, they were absolutely bona fide factual. He also used several other quotes such as:
Buddha: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts.”
Emerson: “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
William James: “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
George Bernard Shaw: “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances.”
Murray continued his speech by reminding the graduates as they commence, that the meaning of commence means to begin. As they begin, they will be in charge of their own life. He reminded them that their life is now literally their life and that they must now make critical decisions on how to live it. There will be no one to blame but themselves for their successes and their failures.
“There will be no one to check to see if you are awake, or get you to class, or to monitor your academic progress. You are going where there are no work details, no detentions, and no suspensions. There is jail, and that’s the reality,” Mr. Murray said as the graduating class went from cheering to a sudden reality and silence.
He concluded by telling them to trust their instincts and not to expect to get everything right but to learn from all mistakes and move forward. Then inclosing he said, “Sure it’s your life and trust yourself, but remember those who care for and love you will always have a supporting hand held out for you, and it is okay to hold it sometimes.”
I remember thinking he’d achieved a home run, a touch-down, and even a golden goal as I focused my camera on the faces of all the graduates. As my camera memorized their smiles and captured their excitement, I felt as if I was capturing their wings opening up for their first solo flight.