Recent graduates: Service to community will be your mission

A pandemic makes you first witnesses to history, but are you prepared to face this test – and the many others ahead?

The class of 2020 will have the unenviable distinction of having been amongst some of the first witnesses of history – the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like the tracking of cell phones across America during the pandemic response, we will soon witness a distribution of recent graduates across the globe, taking on new paths of life and social consciousness.

For the high school seniors, some of you will choose public safety and public service as your career track, some will head back to school and some will live vicariously through others. Some will find their own way, some will be part of the 80% keeping the train moving forward, while others will run along the sides, trying to convince you there are other directions and decisions to be made “off the track.” There are innumerable directions of travel, and life will not always turn down the roads we hoped for.

Firefighters participate in a fire department graduation ceremony, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
Firefighters participate in a fire department graduation ceremony, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

If public service is your chosen path, allow me to provide some reflections and guidance for your journey.

Public service: Bringing calm to chaos

Public service breathes life into the core of our being and pumps blood through the heart of our communities. Whichever direction your travel takes you, you will soon recognize, if you do not already, that life is seen through a prism of chaotic chords.

In public safety, you will learn that, just as in life, chaos begets chaos unless we do something about it. If there is no order, there will be only disorder. In that swirl of disorder will be your directive – to bring calm to chaos.

Should you choose the public safety track, your mission will be clear: SERVICE – plain, simple, unbiased service.

The honorability of this is not borne in pay or status, but rather in the realization that service is both personal and noble. Should you accept this mission, there will be no good time to be afraid of risk, there will be no good time to do the wrong thing, and, in fact, time will be a luxury. Regardless of time, having the courage to do the right things, at the right times, for the right reasons should be your personal testament every day.

It is important to understand that courage is not always laid in neat lines learned in classroom lessons or read in books, nor garnered through earning a degree, a certification or a credential. Courage comes from within your heart. Courage builds from a succession of life’s events that you live, eat and breathe.

Whether it is COVID-19, fires, drownings, trauma, terrorism – whatever the next great “flood” is – we will need many among us to stand up at those moments in time, to be courageous, to be honorable, to be humble.

The communities we serve expect, deserve and trust that you will deliver the best you have to offer, every time you answer their call. The quality and success of your responsiveness will in large part be measured by your professionalism, integrity and ethical standards. These are not traits easily mastered without measured mentorship nor typically found in those without a servant heart. Do you have a servant heart?

As we embark on this course of unknown normalcy, public safety and public service remains steadfastly and humbly noble. Without a servant heart, an individual’s ability to accomplish missions of SERVICE becomes blurred. History will show that we either evolve or we will slowly die out. The course will not be about you, me or history; it will be about the future.

This is your opportunity to serve. This is your opportunity to be inspirations for the next generation. Many of you will be the firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, chiefs and dispatchers on the front line for the future, answering the calls and providing the service.

You now have the opportunity to ride the rails or travel the road less traveled. You – ONLY you – hold the keys to your future. Which key you use will determine your ultimate destination.

The buck stops with you

President Harry S. Truman famously said, "You know, it's easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you – and on my desk I have a motto which says ‘The Buck Stops Here' – the decision has to be made."

Remember, when it comes to your future, the buck stop with you.

Do you have the courage to do the right thing, every time? Do you have the humility of a servant heart? Are you prepared to accept that the buck stops with you? Will the class of 2020 be ready to answer the call?  

The next witnesses of history will be your record.

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