Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fire Up Blue, Fire Up

Now into the fourth week of school, I have already seen some of the energy of the new year fade from some students. Many are already falling back into old patterns and habits that aren't necessarily good ones. Most noticeably is the diminishing enthusiasm for learning new skills and developing newer, more salutary habits. Watching all this happen before my eyes, I was reminded of a speech I gave two years ago as the keynote speaker at our school's National Honor Society Induction. See if it fires YOU up.

NHS Induction Speech

January 30, 2006

**A special thanks to the 2006 NHS officers for selecting me as their speaker. Also, a special thanks to Mrs. Cary Gray for setting the standard of a faculty sponsor and for putting on a fabulous ceremony.

Here it is . . . . . . . . . Please . . . . don't laugh at me.

Introduction by Rachel Thebeau (Madaam President of NHS):

Our guest speaker tonight is a man who still looks around for his father when addressed as, “Mr. Korpi.” He is a 1992 graduate of this very high school, who liked it here so much, he decided to come back to stay. It’s our math club sponsor, our UIL “mathlete” coach, and the math teacher of many students here tonight. It’s Mr. Kevin Korpi, son of Wayne!


(Tapes an odd math symbol to the front of the podium, "I have a prop," he reassures the crowd, as they laugh at his inability to locate the front of the podium . ..)

The equations reads: Su = (Sc + Le + Se + Ch)x

Which stands for "Success equals Scholarship plus Leadership plus Service plus Character all times x."

Thank you, Rachel for that introduction. Very nice distinction between me and my father. Sitting there, I was starting to think it was a remarkable coincidence that he was going to be speaking here tonight, too!!!

So, good evening ladies, gentlemen, students, and others. ( if you’re out there).

Now some of you are squirming in your seats at the sight of this equation; some of you might even be getting a little excited; some of you just might be getting nauseous. Fear not!! I will explain the equation in front of you, and trust me, there will be no test over it . . . . perhaps only a short quiz, so . .

Let me start by thanking the current members of this prestigious organization for asking me to be the guest speaker here tonight. Aside from the obvious honor of being selected by group of students, to whom I have dedicated my most ardent efforts, it’s a good excuse to get all prettied up and out of the house.

Of course, the reason we are all out of the house tonight it to recognize and congratulate each of the new inductees into the most notable, highly-regarded league of high school students—The National Honor Society, and looking out among you, I can clearly see that each of you are in a very select group. Since I was inducted into the New Braunfels High School Chapter of NHS 15 years ago . . . .(pause) wow, 15 years. Time seems to accelerate as you get older. Pretty soon I’ll BE my dad!! . . .anyway, I believe they have raised the standards for getting in. Back in 1991, among the requirements for induction were to name a few collective nouns, such as “fly-paper,” “garbage-can,” and “vacuum-cleaner.” Let’s see . . . we also had to know that the Declaration of Independence was signed . . . at the bottom. And finally, if my goldfish memory serves me correctly, we had to know how to spell “N-H-S” . . . . . . . (slowly) backwards. –Yep! That kept a lot of people out.

Well, the point is—the bar is definitely higher. Each of you has been carefully selected from a large field of applicants, by a distinguished panel of educators, based on four key characteristics: Scholarship, Leadership, Service, and Character, and I do see many scholars, leaders, servants, and ahh, yes, even some characters among you. But your desire alone to apply to this society means that you are a cut above your peers, that you are a caliber of individual with unlimited potential, great expectations and awesome supportive parents . . . (nodding) square that last one. Good job parents!

But, unfortunately, it also means you have the hapless fortune of listening to me tonight. But, ohh wait. . . There is another perk--It also means you’ll get to wear a cool white cowl at graduation, a fashionable accessory to any full-length gown, which means people will know at a glance of your vast knowledge of important historical U.S. documents and your BACKWARD spelling prowess.

Why if George Washington were here tonight (rub chin), he would not only be noted for his old age, but he would be so proud to see each of you sitting there, embodying the qualities that prepare you for a productive and successful life ahead. And I’d have to say that I’d share his sentiments.

But I don’t want to speak to you tonight about former presidents, but I also know that I can’t use words that I’m used to speaking to a group, such as “don’t forget to simplify your fractions,” or “have you tried rationalization conjugation?”, and “Please wake up, this will be on the test.” Those wouldn’t suffice. So I thought long and hard about something that would be more interesting, rather than boring. Something with more mass-appeal and less mathematical. . . . (pause) but . . . I came up with nothing. So instead I thought I would just stick to topics I know best: Chinese whale frogs, and equations.

As for Chinese whale frogs, well, they are large, rare, imaginary, hopping, mammphibians that dwell in trees in China. Yah. . . . not that motivating! And Equations . . . well they can also sometimes be large . . . and only marginally more motivating—relatively speaking.

So here’s where the math comes in—you knew it was coming. Think of success as an equation (please refer to exhibit “1-a-i”). Every equation has inputs, parameters, and variables, . . . and an equal sign. Now think of the four components of NHS: scholarship, leadership, service, and character: as variables in the equation—add ‘em all up and it will likely equal, “Su,” success. BUT . . .there is another variable in the equation, as you can see. Another multiplier, that will increase each of the four traits by its factor. One that will amplify the effects of the others. Something that will give you different levels of success. It is denoted in the equation as variable “x.” Have a lot of it, increase your chances of success, have zero of it . . . well we all know what multiplying by zero does!! (exaggerated laugh).

Guess what that trait is!! What could x be??? Here’s a hint: it’s not pattern baldness. That should narrow it down.

Well in the interest of time, I’ll just tell you. X equals . . . “Enthusiasm!!!!!!!!!!” That’s ENTHUSIASM for y’all in the back row.

You see, enthusiasm is a powerful trait. It’s the difference maker. As I hope this speech will come to bear, even a simple man, like my father’s son, who is fired with enthusiasm can be more persuasive than a more eloquent man, like George Washington’s father’s son, without it. It is perhaps the greatest asset on Earth, better than power, influence, money, and dare I say, math skills. A person with enthusiasm has nothing to fear in this world—except perhaps those whale frogs. He is bold in his actions, brimming with confidence, and he effuses an infectious spirit around him that can set the world ablaze, even more easily in dry conditions—and by dry I mean lack of leadership, creativity, spontaneity, moisture, etc. . . .

Now, enthusiasm alone can be an asset in the absence of others, but as the equation clearly illustrates, it becomes something else entirely when it is combined with the traits that have brought you here today. Those traits represent power. Enthusiasm is the trait that pulls the switch, unleashing that power. It’s the yeast in the bread that makes the dough rise. It’s the carbonation that causes the fizz in the soda. It’s the flame in the hot-air balloon that makes it go up. It’s the ink in a pen that makes it write. It’s the punch-line in a joke that I’m always lacking. It’s the quality that can prevent you from realizing you’ve made enough analogies and it’s time to move on.

It becomes the life force that drives you onward to greatness and sustains you at the same time. It awakens your senses to possibilities and adds vim, vigor, and vitality to all you do. As my old football coach said more than once, it puts “blood in your eyes and snot in your nose.” Although I never knew why he thought these afflictions were so desirable, I realized in writing this speech that he was talking about tenacious enthusiasm . . , I think.

How about a quote from someone who spoke less allegorically and with less imagery: Dale Carnegie, the pioneer in self-improvement and corporate motivation. He said, (in voice)“Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse-sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.” Now, I don’t know if he actually talked like that, but in math terms this is “HS +P is approximately S.” So his equation was a little different from mine and doesn’t fit as nicely around the four pillars of NHS. But according to him, it worked. Notice also that in his equation, success requires enthusiasm . . . and horse sense. Now I know for a fact that each of you has a tremendous advantage over even the most brilliant equine.

So fill your words with encouragement and enthusiasm, any you’ll often find people and circumstances lining up in your favor. Anything will seem possible, when you put your passion, energy, and enthusiasm into everything and anything you do.

Now enthusiasm costs nothing, yet it can help bring to you just about anything you want. People will lend their support and rally around a leader with enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t want such a powerful force . . . for free even. You can’t go wrong with enthusiasm. AND . . . it’s contagious: once you have it, you can infect others. But negativity is also contagious. So who better to infect other people? You! with enthusiasm? Or them!, with ldfjelkejr (make a distasteful sound)? If you get yourself and others around you infected with enthusiasm, you’ll soon have a lot more of it—all for zero dollars and twice as much cents!

So what can you do to get going with enthusiasm?

Drink a Mountain Dew? Do your math homework???

What will it take to get you excited and fired up every day?

Jump out of bed each morning on a pogo stick?????—that seems to do the trick for me . . ., except for the splashing coffee, . . and making holes in the ceiling, . . . AND scuffing up the floor, BUT . . . it may not work all that well for you either.

So, what will it take to get you excited and fired up every day?

I want you to sincerely think about that question, and as you do, your thoughts will give birth to a real and indisputable enthusiasm within you. You see, enthusiasm lives and grows and is felt in your mind, which means, as Mr. Kilford says, you can “fake it ‘til you make it!!” Carry your own sunshine with you wherever you go. Put a smile on your face, a spring in your step, and think big, and don’t be afraid to show some real enthusiasm.

Welcome it into your mind, every day, and soon you will develop the habit of enthusiasm, and it will become part of your character.

You see, this is your life. Anything you do is worth your best efforts and is important enough to invest your commitment, your attention, and . . . (YEP, you guessed it . . . ) YOUR ENTHUSIASM. So don’t just complete the assignment—learn! Don’t just work—achieve! Don’t just glisten—sweat! Don’t just hear—listen. Don’t just sit there—stand and applaud!! (wait ‘til the end please.)

But please don’t just exist—live!! Live with enthusiasm.

Almost done . . .

Now almost anyone over the age of 30 would like to be, in some ways, perhaps in some small, very small way . . . maybe, younger again. I know I would, just ‘cause I think it’d be neat to go back to high school again and have students say, “isn’t it weird that our classmate is our math teacher?” But hey, that’s what REM sleep is for. Seriously though, why would anyone want to be young again?

Think of this multiple choice test question, umm, I mean “quiz” question: “What is one of the primary attributes of youth?

a) Enthusiasm b) Old age c) radioactivity

Now while the ability to glow would be a cool superpower, enthusiasm is a natural characteristic of youth. That means choice A) was the correct answer and would receive full credit. Choices B) and C) were incorrect, and would consequently only receive PARTIAL credit.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is, as we get older, somehow we get the idea or tendency to let go of enthusiasm. But we shouldn’t. We should strive to be enthusiastic throughout our lives, everyday, even when the pressures of reality and the stresses of all our obligations weigh down heavily upon us. Enthusiasm is exactly what we need to carry us through our difficult times; it will push us forward and will add a brilliant neon glow to all we do.—Hey I guess we can have that superpower after all. Imagine that! “Hi! I’m Captain Enthusiasm, and I’m here to help and infect somebody. Need a light?” Wouldn’t that be Cool!

So in closing, I want to encourage each of you to be glowing superheroes in your own life. Remember the “x” factor from the equation (pointing to the equation). Be your best, and your life will be too. Live with integrity, a generous spirit, and a positive enthusiasm, and the world will reflect it all back to you. And remember this bit of wisdom from another famous football coach, Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi: “If you are not fired with enthusiasm, you may find yourself fired . . .with enthusiasm.

Thank you, congratulations again, and have a great, enthusiastic tomorrow!! . . . ohh, and do your math homework.

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