Though much of Greensburg remains abuzz over the return of President Bush to address the community’s 18 graduating seniors as part of their May 4 commencement, nine of those seniors likely heard their graduation message two weeks in advance at the forty-ninth Honor Roll Banquet, held April 21 at the GHS practice gym.


   Though much of Greensburg remains abuzz over the return of President Bush to address the community’s 18 graduating seniors as part of their May 4 commencement, nine of those seniors likely heard their graduation message two weeks in advance at the forty-ninth Honor Roll Banquet, held April 21 at the GHS practice gym.
   Hosted every spring by area graduates of Kansas State and the University of Kansas, only students having been on one of Greensburg High’s three honor rolls the previous two semesters are invited, along with their parents.
   In addition to the nine seniors, a total of eight juniors, 12 sophomores and 14 freshmen were on hand to hear the comments of keynote speaker Bill Snyder, former KSU head football coach.
   Snyder, who is credited by many as having affected the greatest turnaround in the history of college football, spoke directly to the students in attendance as to how they could approach the process of living a successful adult life.  Following is a summary of his address.
Special people…
   Snyder began his comments by stressing the importance of young people realizing “the value of bringing special people into your life” after first acknowledging the key role to be played by such pivotal folk as “parents, teachers, neighbors, friends and people at church.”
   Calling himself a “latchkey kid,” Snyder referred to his single-parent mother as the most important person to influence him early on.  Among others who cared about him and his future were administrators and coaches.  “Unfortunately, I didn’t take advantage of opportunities to learn from these people as quickly as I could have,” he recounted.
   Apart from profiting from the counsel of early mentors, Snyder stressed the critical factor of “being able to continue to identify special people in the years to come as you move out on your own…not always the glitzy people, but those who truly care about you and your welfare.”
  As he did several times throughout his message, Snyder then related his central theme to the lessons to be learned from the shared experience of surviving May 4.  “Having gone through what you have in this community the past year,” he said, “you understand as well as anyone what it means to be able to get through a tough time on the strength of those who care about you.”
It’s about a process…
   While noting the goal-oriented nature of athletic competition, Snyder said he believes in a process in order to achieve success in virtually any area of life.
   “There’s a process in the rebirth of Greensburg as well as how you achieve success in your individual lives,” he counseled.
   Key to such a process is determining priorities, which may change in particulars throughout life, but not in terms of bottom line values.
   “Your faith, family, being the best student possible, being the best person you can be, becoming the best athlete you can be…these are the core values that will remain as you live out your years,” he said.
   Snyder went on to caution getting sucked into the shiny innovations of an electronic age—he mentioned obsessive text messaging as an example—to the detriment of a person’s development.  “It’s so easy for the latest gadget to steal from you the time it takes to understand and pursue what’s truly important in life,” he cautioned.
   As for specific goals themselves, Snyder advised students of the strategic importance of identifying and sticking with priorities.  “You establish your priorities and commit to them, and you’ll find your goals,” he said.  “One comes from the other.”
What’s the plan?
   Saying it’s a natural inclination for youngsters to “say ‘I want this’ without thinking what it will take to get this or that,” Snyder suggested the necessity of developing a plan to achieve defined goals.
   Remembering his mother had told him early and often that he could achieve virtually anything if he would only “work really hard,” Snyder learned from experience that sheer effort wasn’t enough.  “It takes more than hard work,” he said.  “You have to know how you’re going to arrive at your goal and apply your hard work to that approach.”
    But how to even go about laying the groundwork of a plan is a typically daunting task that baffles those who fail to take advantage of the most available resource with which Snyder began his talk—those special people in life who have your best interest at heart.
   “That’s where those special people from my life came into play,” he said.  “They’ve lived long enough to have the experience to know how to go about making a plan, and they’re only too happy to share such insights with you.”
Stick-to-it-iveness key…
   Of course, once a plan is developed and in place, implementation holds the key to success.  And nothing enables working a plan like perseverance, Snyder observing that “only five to ten percent don’t give up” on their plan.
   After citing Abe Lincoln, Walt Disney and Steven Spielberg as stellar examples of individuals who overcame rejection and adversity to finally realize their respective dreams of gaining political office, establishing an animation studio and succeeding in film production, Snyder turned to his own family for what has become to him the ultimate illustration of perseverance.
   He referred to his daughter having survived a car wreck 15 years ago, only to emerge from hours of neurosurgery facing a lifetime of below-the-neck paralysis.  Having been told by the surgeon his child would never again walk, Snyder recalled looking the doctor in the eye and telling him “that I didn’t believe him and that I knew my own daughter better than he did.”  He also told the medical staff his daughter would walk out of the hospital in the foreseeable future.
   Though it was six months later and with the support of another, his girl did leave the Dallas Rehabilitation Institute on her own two feet.  While needing the aid of a cane to walk today, she leads an independent life as the mother of three young boys operating two businesses.
   “Now that’s perseverance,” he smiled, before going on to say, “But as I drove into town today I could see there’s a new story of perseverance.  It’s Greensburg.  You’re (young people) a part of that, so never forget the perseverance of your parents, grandparents, and community.”
   Recalling his earliest players likely thinking he would eventually give up on his daily ritual of asking them what they’d done that day to improve as a person, Snyder said the team eventually realized he was serious in expecting them to have an answer.
   Not a day passed when he didn’t go into the locker room at the end of practice and ask over 80 players, one by one, what they’d done that day to become a better man and football player.  “They began to understand I was serious about that, but I had to stick with it for quite a while before that happened,” he said.
Two sides of a coin…
   Observing “tremendous expectations” are laid on young people as high school students, Snyder spoke of imposing self-expectations, while not allowing the opposite dynamic of limitations to hold sway.
   “Limitations is the other side of the coin of expectations and you need to understand the difference between the two and not gravitate toward the limitations,” he counseled.  “It would have been so easy to gravitate toward the limitations when it came time to begin rebuilding this town, and just give up.  But that hasn’t happened.  Don’t let it happen to you.”
  By way of example the former coach remembered his first day on campus as the Wildcats’ new football leader.  He requested an audience with the 22 seniors who’d used up their football eligibility the previous November.  All 22 appeared, and were more than eager to share the frustrations of not having won a single game during their four to five years in a K-State uniform.
   “One player told me, ‘Coach, you’d never have seen us wear our letter jackets during our time here,’” he recalled.   “We were too embarrassed.”
   A second cited the mounting disgrace leading to none of the 22 attending class the Monday or Tuesday following yet another loss.  A third remembered being too embarrassed by the collective futility to even consider entering Aggieville during the season.
   Saying those players had placed “too much emphasis on the limitations on the field,” Snyder said he later found the class attendance and grade point average of all 22 having shown a steady decline as their college careers stretched from one year to the next.  “They allowed their limitations on the athletic field of play to affect their entire lives as students and persons,” he said.  “Don’t make the same mistake, because limitations will come your way.  They’re a part of life.”
Life’s choices…
   Saying his football teams would “tune” him out when he began speaking of choices under the assumption he was referring to moral decisions, Snyder said he was instead speaking of the every day choices everyone makes as a course of life, many of which are inconsequential, a few of which are life determining.
   “They are a few choices in life that will have a dramatic impact on your life,” he told students, “and the lives of others.  The question is, are you prepared to make them?”
    Not knowing when the moment of pivotal decisions will come makes it all the more imperative an individual live by his priorities consistently.
   “That way, when a tough decision comes along without notice, I can ask myself ‘If I choose this will it help me become better at those priorities I’ve decided on?’” he said, referring to primary matters of “faith, becoming a better person, student or athlete.”
   “If not, why would you ever do it?” he asked rhetorically.  Why indeed.