Author’s Note: I was the Commencement Speaker at the high school graduation for Achievement House Cyber Charter School. These are my remarks. (Achievement House is a cyber charter school that many legislators in Harrisburg would harm by slashing cyber charter schools’ funding by almost half — harming parents and students who seek out schools like Achievement House when their local public school doesn’t work for them.)

Before I begin my formal remarks, I would like to thank the parents and students who have shared their stories with me during graduation weekend. You’ve shared your personal journeys that brought you to Achievement House, and to graduation today. The stories of Axel of Washington, Pennsylvania, Lucien of West Chester, and Ryan of Philadelphia will inspire and motivate me to fight for Cyber Schools for years to come. Thank you so very much.

Graduates, on momentous occasions, it’s a good time to look back and to look ahead.

And, yes, this is a momentous occasion. Not only are you graduating high school, but to get to this day, you searched and searched until you found Achievement House. And you decided this was your path forward.

Please close your eyes for a moment and think about that moment when you decided to make Achievement House your school. Think about your decision process — be it with family, friends, or doing your own research online. And recall that moment when you felt you had made a good choice, the right choice. Hold that thought. Remember that feeling.

Mark it as a “favorite” in your mind.

In my life’s work, I’ve been blessed to have the chance to see a lot of life and a lot of different schools, businesses and parts of our government. From meetings in public housing to meetings at the governor’s residence and the White House. I’ve had the privilege to work for a governor and a president. I’ve toured or spoken before students at every conceivable type of school from public to Catholic, from charter to college. As a Chamber CEO, I’ve toured family dairy farms and life science companies where they were working on things that, candidly, I could not even begin to comprehend.

In an ever-changing world of politics, culture, and AI, with life spinning faster as faster for students, employers — and, yes, your parents, too — I’d like to share some of the advice to help you make your way and help you focus to make a difference in your life and others.

Find a mentor. Someone to teach you how to do well at what you care about. Someone who has knowledge and is grounded in values you respect. A good mentor values that relationship and enjoys helping you grow, learn and succeed. AHCCS’s CEO, Don Asplen, is one of mine. Thank you, Don.

Find a friend. Maybe at your age that doesn’t seem to be a challenge, or maybe for some of you it is. But make sure you have a friend. Someone you can talk to, go to baseball games with, talk about museums, play Fortnight — and be honest with. And, he or she can be honest with you.

If you can, focus on your family. Mark Twain once wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Make that family. Create that home — so that whether you, your spouse, or your children are looking for a home, it will always be there.

Don and so many others know that I always talk about coaching softball. I’m in the midst of my 25th season coaching girls softball. I’ve coached girls as young as six and as old as nineteen. In addition to Little League, I coach travel softball. I’ve been coaching our current team since the fall of 2019 — my Covid kids: they were rising fourth and fifth graders. Today, they’re rising freshmen and sophomores.

I’ve been telling them one thing: control what you can, starting with yourself. You can’t control the weather — the heat, humidity, rain or bitter cold. You can’t control the umpires. You can’t control the field conditions — muddy, sandy or tall grass. You can’t control the other team — how fast the pitcher throws, or how often they bunt or steal.

What you can control is your effort, your focus, and you can control the kind of teammate that you are. Today, I’ll leave here and head to day three of a showcase tournament; I’ll remind them of my counsel, again, today.

Your teachers in college, your boss, politicians — and, yes, even your parents and families may challenge you, push you or even get in the way.

Control your effort to the task at hand. Focus on your goals, be they immediate or long-term, and be the best teammate that you can.

On momentous occasions, it’s also important to remember the moment. This moment. Please, look around. Think about what it took to get here today. For each of you has a unique and special story, and why this moment is special.

Look around if you want — to a family member who is here, feel free to look to the heavens if that special person is gone. Look to that teacher, counselor, staff member, or even classmate who helped you get to graduation. Take a moment. Find that person, or think about that person who is gone, but still in your heart.

Close your eyes and take that picture. Mark it as a “favorite” in your mind.

Down the road, maybe at college or a trade school, maybe at work, or maybe with the family, you will start someday, you will face adversity or another big decision. Or a friend or family member will ask you for help with a big decision at work, school or life.

Go back to these “favorites” you saved today — making good decisions, being grateful for those who helped you, and celebrating accomplishments. Use your “favorites” to help others make their decisions or to answer your future challenges.

Today is a day to look back. Celebrate today, and look ahead.

You have begun that journey. We wish you every success that life has to offer, and we have every confidence that you can be the best you, that you can be. Congratulations!

Guy Ciarrocchi is a Senior Fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He writes for Broad + Liberty and RealClear Pennsylvania. Follow Guy at @PaSuburbsGuy

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