Commencement Speech
Dr. Rui Dionisio
Verona High School
June 16, 2017

Members of the Board of Education, parents, staff, and the Class of 2017, it is an honor to be with you this evening.

I could get up here and give a speech about how special you are, how amazing you will become, and how you will change the world. That’s a given. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I want to talk to you about lessons in leadership. You see, leadership is not the big boss, the politician, or the captain of the football team. Transformational leadership is someone who creates an inspiring vision of the future, motivating and inspiring people to buy into that vision. Each of you is a leader to someone in your own special way but many of you have not even realized it yet.

I would like to leave you with The Four Agreements from don Miguel Ruiz that may serve as life lessons in leadership for you as you embark on the next chapter of your life. Follow through on these four agreements and perhaps you may walk a bit straighter, stand slightly taller, and view life a little differently.

Lesson #1. Be Impeccable with your Word:

Speak with integrity. Remember you are your word and your teeth are a gate for your tongue. Say only what you mean. Avoid using words that speak against yourself or others. Your word, like a first impression, is how people will remember you.

Lesson #2. Don’t Take Anything Personally:

Perspective is subjective. Life will be so much easier for you if you embrace this simple message. Let go of what others think of you, or what you think they may think of you. Don’t get sucked into the drama. Don’t succumb to a false fear that other people have an opinion of you and that their opinion matters more than your own. Quite frankly, it doesn’t. Look to your family and friends for advice. Lead your life. Stay in your lane. But don’t be afraid to take the occasional fork in the road. Live your best life by not taking the naysayers too personally. It is only a projection of their own reality, and not yours.

Lesson #3. Don’t Make Assumptions:

Don’t assume the worst. Find the courage to say what you mean and mean what you say. My best advice to you is to be direct in your conversations. And that means stop texting. Look eye to eye. Speak face to face. So often, conflicts and problems arise from misunderstandings that stem from poor communication. As you interact with others, your friends, family, peers … don’t assume the worst. Most people just want to be seen and heard.

Lesson #4. Always Do Your Best:

Living a meaningful life is not a popularity contest. Your best is a moving target on any given day. You will have some good days, and you will have some bad ones too. It is inevitable. It happened to the great ones before you: Jordan, Earhart, Disney, Edison. Start each day practicing gratitude. Be thankful for what you have. Then make your bed, literally and figuratively, tending to all of the things that matter most in life. Never cut corners. Because if you do, you will only shortchange yourself.

Tonight, I leave you with one final valuable lesson from Thomas J. Sellitto. Graduates, I am sure you recognize the Sellitto name as Verona recently re-dedicated our athletic field complex to this extraordinary man. Tom Sellitto was very successful in life. He was a wonderful teacher, Hall of Fame coach, and prominent leader in Verona for many, many years. He was an incredibly respected man who left a positive impact on the lives of so many young people throughout the years. But what made him truly special was not what he did for a living, but how he made people feel. And that’s what matters most.

His message from years ago still resonates with all of us here this evening: “My advice to young people is to surround yourself with people you admire. Learn from them. Stay determined and work hard. And remember, when challenges arise – and they will – you must keep moving forward. Take the high road, rise above things. Know that you are strong enough to do that, capable enough to meet every challenge life throws your way. And once you have lived enough to know that what I am telling you is the truth, take what you have learned and pass it on.”

Class of 2017, go out and ignite your spark. Congratulations to you and your families on this very special day.