I doubt I will ever be asked to give a commencement speech, but if I did I would say something like this:
I was not a very good high school student. In fact, I was never a good college student either. No one should look to me as a model of how to excel in high school or college. I did not study much, and I was very lazy. In high school I did not take any math classes after I barely passed geometry. I have always claimed that side of my brain did not work well, but the truth is that I did not do well in math because I never saw the point. Of course, problem solving is an important skill to develop, but I chose not to do it at a young age.
I graduated near the top of my class at William Chrisman only because they did not have weighted classes. In college I took the most difficult classes on a pass-fail basism always striving to be the dumbest one to pass. Because of my poor math skills, it is doubtful that I could get accepted to UMKC today. So, as you enter the next phase of your life I will ask that you do as I say and not as I do.
Yet, there was a point when things changed. I had always wanted to be a lawyer. When I graduated from college in 1975 there were a lot of people smarter than me who wanted to go to law school. Because I excelled at laziness and mediocrity I was not prepared to do well on the Law School Admission Test. When I finally entered law school in 1977 it was only because I had spent two years getting a master’s degree in public administration where A grades were handed out like candy on Halloween. I discovered that I could continue in my laziness and still get a 3.9 grade point, which allowed me to get admitted to law school.
When I received the letter making me one of 165 students in the class of 1980, I was living proof that you could not be very smart yet get admitted. When I entered law school, there were only two students I knew who had lower LSAT scores than me. Those two years in grad school prepared me by helping me to get admitted but did little to prepare me for the next step in my journey. I had been fooling myself and others for years, but my foolishness was nearing the finish line. If I was to pursue my teenage dreams, I quickly discovered that I had to make some radical changes.
I was one of the youngest students in my high school class. My mother decided when I was 5 that I could handle kindergarten barely out of thumb sucking and potty training because I was persistent and made friends easily. But I was not ready for kindergarten when I was 4 and I surely was not ready for law school when I was 21.
After college I had this brilliant idea that I would use my dad's friendship with a member of the MU Board of Curators to pull some strings and get me admitted, but my flowery letter to him failed, which was a blessing.
When I did enter law school at UMKC I quickly discovered that everyone in my class was a lot smarter than me. I would no longer be able to bluff my way through classes. So, I began studying. I had some catching up to do I was motivated by fear. It was not as much fear of failure but the fear of embarrassing myself in front of my fellow students.
In law school they use this teaching method called the Socratic method. Socrates must have been a sadist. He taught students by asking question after question to expose contradictions in the students’ thoughts and ideas to guide them to solid conclusions. It is widely used in legal education.
It was important to be prepared for every class in the event I was put on the hot seat. My contracts teacher was a master at the Socratic method, and he truly inspired me to start loving to learn. I spent hours preparing for his class in the dungeon of the old law school on Rockhill Road as I wanted desperately for him to call on me, so I could shine in front of my peers. I quickly learned after 19 years of education that I was not stupid, just lazy. I was not the brightest student in the class, but I made sure I made up for my deficiencies with hard work. That persistence that led me to kindergarten at a tender age was beginning to pay dividends.
I did not finish at the top of my class, but I was in the top 15 percent. I discovered that if I gave my best effort and treated knowledge like a lover instead of some boring movie I could succeed. So, my advice to everyone is to love knowledge and to desire each day to learn something new. Flee laziness like it’s a rabid dog, and if you dream well and pursue your dreams with all your heart, soul and mind you will dwell in your dreams someday. I am living in the dreams that I had as a lazy high school student. I pray that I never quit learning as I continue to dream to find out what is on the far horizon.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org