Commencement: seasonal insight for a lifetime

Commencement: seasonal insight for a lifetime

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Austin Cunningham was known as a champion for Orangeburg, a dedicated man who did more than observe from the sideline. He became involved, from efforts to build a new hospital in the early 1980s to building better race relations across his decades here. He was a driving force behind the Community of Character campaign that others have modeled from Orangeburg County. He was an avid reader, always an individual with wide knowledge and an ability to articulate it.

Cunningham's death 10 years ago in 2009 left a big void for Orangeburg. But he lives on through his many influences -- and his writing. During this season, we offer this excerpt from a Cunningham piece he always found particularly pertinent: "Nuts and bolts commencement address."

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When I've been asked to speak to graduating classes of young people in their 20s, I tell them that the more educational programs they complete, the more expert they should become at educating themselves.

My talks have evolved under four headings: your body; your mind; your money; your character.

Your body: It's the only one you'll ever have. For the rest of your life, exercise three hours a week. Don't regard it as time you can't spare. You can be listening to educational audio tapes. Exercise brings with it vibrancy, vitality, energy, relaxation, serenity. It's addictive. If you stop it, you miss it.

For the rest of your life, eat and drink intelligently. If you do, you've had your last glass of sweetened tea. Tea is good for you. Drink it plain or stir in the zero-calorie alternative. You have to stir vigorously. Consider it exercise. Sugar contributes only empty, harmful calories. Don't tell me it doesn't taste as good. Get used to it! The good life is made up of adjustments. No alcohol in anything approaching excess. Of course no tobacco in any form. Never use fattening dairy products. Skim milk is the only milk for you and me. It has all of the good and none of the bad. Read the advice columns about taking care of your only body.

Your mind: Read a newspaper every day, seven days a week. Not just the comics, sports, entertainment but the editorial page and news. It will, over five years, give you the equivalent of a college education. If you can't afford one, run by the library. Change your TV viewing habits. Get accustomed to both C-Spans, Discovery, History, Travel channels. The more you know, the more you want to know. Your mind is precious, the more it's stretched, the more efficient it gets. Memorize something daily. (Ask yourself. Are you ambitious? Do you really want to get ahead? If so, keep on reading.) Be more curious, more observant. Are you handicapped by walking through life with blinders on? Many young people are. Don't sleepwalk your life away.

Let all the music you and your family listen to be beautiful, uplifting. Keep a daily calendar. Know what you're going to do and where you'll be at 2 p.m. tomorrow, next week, next year. God made all people interesting. Don't waste time. It's all you've got and it's all yours. Don't desert old friends but pick new ones who have similar hopes, intentions and stimuli. Not a bad way to pick a spouse either. An unfocused, lazy mind is a terrible waste.

Your money: There are different kinds of debt; survival debt and stupid debt; low-interest debt like a good mortgage and hideous, nightmarish high-interest debt. Forty percent of young workers in their 20s have not begun to save anything for retirement. Those are the facts, just the facts. If you're already smart about money and are called a "cheapskate," take it as a badge of honor.

Your character: Be on time. You want to get ahead? Be prompt for your spouse, your school, your church and certainly in your career. Always return telephone calls, the same day if possible. Hold doors open. Speak to people. Smile. It's more important than laughing. Be absolutely reliable. Improve yourself. Buy self-improvement books. Read self-improvement articles. They are all around you. Do someone a favor - every day. Be a superb parent, not just a good one. You can't plan to be happy. Happiness comes of its own accord. Be happy. Be positive. Optimistic. Only good will follow. Don't dwell on past unhappiness.

At the end, what will matter is not what you bought but what you built; not what you got but what you gave. What will matter is not your success but your significance, not what you learned but what you taught.


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