Toney Olton Alma Mater Speech Day Address

By Toney Olton

Harrison College 2015 Speech Day & Prize Giving Featured Address – Toney A. Olton


Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Chairman and members of the Board Of Management of Harrison College, Principal and members of staff, officials of the Ministry of Education, President and fellow Old Harrisonians, President and members of The Parent-Teachers' Association, prize winners, specially invited guests, parents and guardians, students, a blessed good morning to all. The opportunity to share in this morning's Speech Day is a signal honor for me. It is an honor deeply appreciated and graciously accepted.


We are assembled this morning to celebrate excellence. Excellence in academics, and excellence in sport and other extra-curricular activities.  This is rightly so, for this institution has for now almost 300 years, been an epicenter of academic, sporting, and civic excellence.  It has been the cradle that fostered the development of men and women who have gone on to be Governors General, Prime-Ministers, leaders in business, the law, medicine, science, the arts, technology, sport and civil society.  In an era when crassness and crudity, slovenliness and mediocrity seemingly rule all aspects of our social and cultural expression as a nation, I am extremely proud to be associated with today's celebration of achievement.


When as a student I last walked through the gates of this renowned institution, I believe it would have been the Roebuck Street gate, there is absolutely no way that I would have contemplated, nor would anyone associated with the school at that time have contemplated, that I would one day be afforded this significant honor. You see 42 years ago I was at a place where I did not honor the potential that has always been mine, nor the expectations that were had of me. And, if there was such a vote at that time, I would certainly have been amongst those students voted least likely to succeed.  In that regard, permit me to honor three of my teachers, with whom I felt a very special connection, two of whom made significant deposits in my life by the beyond their subject matter -             Mr. Erskine Armstrong and Mr. Richard Day, and Capt Ronald Clarke, the Officer Commanding The No. 1 Cadet Coy., who showed a lot of trust in me and opened opportunities for me to shine as a cadet.


I am the eldest child of a teenage mother who left Barbados when I was only four to seek a better life, a father who never engaged or stepped up to the responsibilities of fatherhood, and the grandson of a poor woman who gave her all and did her best to raise her three grandsons.  My sharing this morning is not a story of rags to riches, nor of a climb to fortune and fame.   Far from!  Rather, it is a story about change and choice, principles and process, decisions and destiny.  I share this morning mindful of my own mistakes and challenges in life and with the regret that I did not have this awareness and insight when I sat where you now sit as students. I seek to affirm in each of you that your purpose and potential are always beckoning you, that the world is truly your oyster, that you can have, do and be anything that you choose to have, do or be, and that in choosing, choose wisely, as your life experience, whether marked by success or marked by failure, characterized by fulfillment or by unhappiness, either way, will be the sum of all the choices you make. 


Vince Lombardi, the famed American football coach said of excellence, 'The quality of a man's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence, regardless of his chosen field of endeavor.' Put differently, life does not care the color of your skin, your pedigree or lack of pedigree, your professional calling, nor does it respond to your sense of entitlement or what you think you deserve.


The challenge you face in realizing your potential, in being consistently people of excellence, the challenge all young people face, is the lack of a framework for making effective life choices. This is a conversation about such a framework.  It borrows on all that I have learnt through personal experience and study, and leaves me with the utmost of humility.


Born 200 years ago, American author, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau penned, 'Most men live lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still inside.' For all the increase in knowledge, the advances of science and technology, and the sophisticated lifestyles available to us today, David Hawkins in his book, Power and Force, published in 2014, suggests that 88% of the human race live lives characterized by one or more of the following emotions – scorn, hate, craving, anxiety, regret, blame, despair, and/or humiliation – emotions driven by the fore-mentioned mindset of entitlement and deservedness, and that undermine one's capacity for finding and living one's purpose and realizing one's fullest potential. 


So, let's cut to the chase.  This framework.


You have probably heard that the only thing that remains constant is change. Cute, but not true.  Change is constant, yes, but it is constant in concert with four other constants.  The first of these is 'Opposites'. From the very beginning of time life has been about opposites, dichotomies.  Light and darkness, day and night, right and wrong, up and down, left and right, male and female, hot and cold, sweet and sour.  The wise man, Solomon, reminds us that 'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. 


Every moment of our lives is a moment in which we face and experience opposites.  That every moment is a moment of opposites, we are always in a position where we are called upon to make a choice, the second constant.  A dichotomy means you can't have, can't do or can't be both of the opposites at one and the same time.   You have to choose.  No man can serve two masters – Matthew 6:24, and James the Apostle reminds us that a double-mined man, a man who can't decide which path of life he is on, who tries to straddle the fence, is unstable, ineffective, in all his ways.  Our choice making is either by our default programming or by conscious choice.  Most people live by default, making the same ineffective choices, time after time, while expecting different results. This is described by Einstein as 'a prescription for madness.' As Jim Rohn noted, 'While we curse the effect, we continue to nourish the cause,' and Shakespeare observed, "The fault is not in the stars, but in ourselves."


If we are going to rise above ordinary, average, mediocre, we must first get to a place where we take conscious responsibility for the choices we make in life.  We must move our locus of control from the outside to the inside.  By that I mean, we must stop looking out, blaming time, place, person and circumstance for the condition of our life, adopting the attitude, 'if it is to be, it is up to me.'  Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it this way,


One ship drives east and another drives west

With the selfsame winds that blow.

Tis the set of the sails

And not the gales, which tells us the way to go.

Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,

As we voyage along through the life:

Tis the set of a soul

That decides its goal,

And not the calm or the strife.


The key to effective choice making is first, as early as possible in your life, determining who you are, your identity, why you are here, your purpose, what you can do, your potential, and what you want to be the evidence that you once occupied time and space on God's good earth – your legacy.  This is what Stephen Covey calls, 'beginning with the end in mind'. Having a very clear sense of who you are and what it is you are about.  The second key to effective choice making is to engage in consequential thinking.  That is, thinking about the consequences of your choices in advance of your actions, and only choosing those actions that move you in the direction of what you say you want to have, want to do, and want to be.  This is called, living with integrity.  As M. H. McKee penned, 'Wisdom is knowing the right path to take. Integrity is taking it.'  You will discover, as I eventually did, that your integrity, your reputation, is of far greater importance than your academic achievements, bank balance, who you know, the house you live in or the car you drive.  Permit one further thought regarding identity, purpose, potential and legacy.  Paramount in your consideration of answers to these issues, - Who am I? Why am I here? What can I do? And what is going to be the evidence I was here? - ought to be that of living a life characterized by service to others.  Indeed, purpose and service are synonymous.  It is impossible to fulfill your purpose in life without that life being one of service.  As Harry Emerson Fosdick put it, 'A person wrapped up in himself makes a small package,' and Dr. Irv Owens defines true success in life as one's ability establish and sustain long lasting relationships.  You cannot sustain long lasting relationships if you are self-absorbed, consumed with meeting your own needs.  I love the way Mother Theresa put it, 'Service is the rent we pay for our space here on earth.'


The third constant, consequences, are the pre-determined outcomes of our actions. While we control our actions, we do not control their consequences.  They are governed by natural laws or principles, the fourth constant.  Scripture tells us that one path, one set of choices, leads to life, the other leads to death.  Deuteronomy 30:15 'See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.' These are the essential outcomes of all our choices.  And death here does not refer exclusively to when we lie in our greaves.  As Norman Cousins penned, 'Death is not our greatest loss.  It is what dies within us while we are still alive.' 


Principles – A principle may be defined as a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens.  It is immutable, cannot be changed, operates regardless of time, place, person or circumstance, and provides a predictable outcome.  Once you understand in any one moment what principle is at work, you know what is going to happen before it happens and can therefore make an effective choice.


The overarching law or principle that governs our life experience is the Law of the Harvest, the Law of Sowing and Reaping.  Again, Scripture helps us here, 'For what a man sows, that will he reap.' Galatians 6:7.  Two things are in play here.  Firstly, you reap in concert with what you sow.  No one sows corn and reaps potatoes. If you sow hatred, you will reap hatred, if you sow love, you will reap love. You are only going to get out of life what you put in.  Secondly, you always reap in multiples of what you sow.  No one plants one seed and reaps only one fruit from that one seed.  Our abundance of troubles or abundance of happiness is predominantly a function of our sowing.  Living The Law of The Harvest is what Stephen Covey in his brilliant work, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, calls, being principled-centered.


Opposites, Choice, Consequences, Principles.  These four are always operational in our lives.  Their lynchpins are Accepting Personal Responsibility, Having A Vision For Your Life, and Practicing Consequential Thinking.  Lack of this awareness and hence application lead to poor scholastic performance, teenage and unwanted pregnancies, drug, alcohol and other addictions, debt, difficulties in relationships, the high incidence of non-communicable diseases, and the constant treading of the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.  Their understanding and consistent application are keys to achieving and sustaining excellence in all aspects of our lives, to living our purpose and realizing our potential, to engaging meaningful relationships, to hitting life's sweet spot.


This is so empowering.  21 years ago, the year in which I was going to 40, I made a commitment that the second half of my life had to be far superior to the first half.  21 years later, I can confidently report that I have to a significant degree, been successful in realizing that commitment.  The evidence of that superior life is had first in the healing of most of those broken relationships from my life before age 40, and in the trust, love and respect I enjoy today with my family, relatives, friends, clients, and varying communities and groups which I serve.  New opportunities to serve, whether for a fee or pro bono, are always opening for me.   As a personal, leadership, business and service excellence consultant, trainer and coach, all of my business today is from what is known as referrals, that is people recommending me and my work to their friends and colleagues. I do not advertise.  I am living my 'end in mind,' that is to live in unity with God's continuing unfolding purpose for my life, to be a light for understanding self, living true to purpose, and for the development of rich synergistic relationships, to enjoy and share all the rich blessings which are mine, and to die having used up all of my potential.  I give God thanks for all His goodness and His mercy.


The framework for living out that vision of the life I desire is what I have shared with you today.   I implore you, don't wait like I did until age 40.  Commit today to be the best version of you.  Commit today to take conscious responsibility for living that vision, engaging in consequential thinking, ensuring that what you think, what you feel, what you do are consistently in concert with that vision of your best self.  Honor that commitment and the earth and all that is in it will be yours, guaranteed.


Mr. Master of Ceremonies.


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