Back in June, I attended my niece’s graduation on Orcas Island. Orcas is located in the upper northwest corner of Washington State and recently gained some exposure as the setting for Kelli Estes’ debut, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk. It’s an eclectic and tight-knit community, and the commencement festivities showcased that in a dramatic way.
Case in point: Robert M. Gates, former president of Texas A&M and Secretary of Defense to three US presidents, gave the keynote address at the graduation ceremony. The senior class president introduced him. This young man, whose father had retired from state politics in Olympia and moved his family to Orcas several years ago, said he’d been nervous about approaching Gates to ask him to speak, but kept telling himself, “It never hurts to ask.” Listening on commencement day, I’d assumed he’d been acquainted with Gates because of his father’s political connections.
My sister, who has lived on Orcas for almost 20 years, later disabused me of this notion. She told me the senior class president only knew Gates by reputation–Gates has lived on Orcas for many years, made extensive charitable donations to the local school district, and long hoped to be asked to be a speaker. Only when the young man in question approached him, did he have the chance to accept.
His speech, by the way, stands as the best commencement address I’ve ever heard. It spanned generations, and bridged economic, racial, and ideological backgrounds. Sharing deeply personal stories from his own life, Gates inspired all within the sound of his voice to rise above their mistakes and keep working toward their dreams–whatever those dreams might be.
I’ll resist the urge to draw any heavy-handed lessons out of this story; it speaks for itself.
It speaks to me now, as I just sent out my first batch of queries this morning. The worst that can happen is for someone to say no–in which case, I’ll move forward and keep asking until someone does say yes.