Pat Sajak Delivers the Graduation Speech to Founders Classical Academy, Leander, TX

Pat Sajak Delivers the Graduation Speech to Founders Classical Academy, Leander, TX

November 13, 2019 6 By Stanley Isaacs


Dr. Kathleen O’Toole: I’d like to introduce
now our keynote speaker. Let me begin by saying the following: it makes
absolutely no sense that someone like Patrick Sajak is here at our graduation, except that
Patrick Sajak is a great man. He is not here because he is a famous man. He is here because he is a great man. Let me tell you about his life. He was born in Chicago. He went to Columbia College, where he began
a broadcasting career as a radio announcer in 1967. In 1968 he joined the Army. He was deployed to Vietnam, where he was the
morning D.J. on the Armed Forces Radio firm Saigon. He opened the broadcast by saying “Good morning,
Vietnam.” Following his military service, his career
took him to Lousiville, Kentucky, Nashville, Tennessee, and finally, in 1977, to L.A.,
where he was a TV weatherman and talk show host. He’s been the host of Wheel of Fortune since
1981, and like many of you, probably, I grew up watching him on TV. He’s earned three Emmy Awards, a People’s
Choice Award, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’ve always been struck by how kind Mr. Sajak
is to the people on the show, how personal an interest he pays to each of them, and how
he is always good-humored, always gentlemanly, always welcoming, and as I’ve gotten to know
him a little bit, I see that that is not a front. He’s actually like that. The way that he is on TV is the way that he
is, as a person. That is impressive. To our students, and to all of us, Pat Sajak
is an inspiration because he has lived a life of fame, a successful career in the public
eye, and he has always kept the important things first. He is an example of virtue and of devotion
to his country. He is an excellent citizen, and he understands
the importance of education. We are grateful to have him here today. Please join me in welcoming Mr. Pat Sajak. PAT SAJAK: Thank you, Dr. O’Toole. This being a solemn and serious occasion,
let me begin by saying, wow, this is cool, isn’t it? I mean, it really is. I’m very excited to be here. I do want to make one thing clear, because
frequently, when I appear somewhere, there are some misunderstandings. And people are expecting something else. So if you came for the wrong reason, I just
want to announce, I am not giving away cars or cash today. [LAUGHTER]
Being introduced by Dr. O’Toole is a strange experience for me. I’ve known the Arnn family for something like
25 years. And this will shock some of you in the room,
particularly students, to know that Dr. O’Toole was not always Dr. O’Toole. She was little Katie O’Toole. No, Katie Arnn, I’m sorry. I’m so confused. And I’m so proud and in awe of what she, with
the help, of course, of a wonderful staff and the faculty here, and the parents, and
the students, what they’ve accomplished in these few years. So Dr. O’Toole, and Dr. Arnn, and Mr. Terry,
and to the faculty, and the parents and families, and the members of the class of 2017, it really
is an honor to be here. I flew in yesterday and came directly to the
school and took a tour of about an hour and a half. And I met a lot of you and saw a lot of the
classes. I went into a kindergarten class, which, like
most kindergarten classes everywhere, was well-behaved, respectful, quiet, and like
most kindergarten class everywhere, recited, in unison, the preamble to the Constitution. I then went to a second grade class, where
they proceeded to recite, in unison, the Gettysburg Address. When I was in second grade, I was learning
to memorize Bah Bah Black Sheep and learning to tie my shoes. So to the graduating class who’ve been working
so hard the last three years at a classical education, I suspect it’s sometimes easy to
lose sight of what a magnificent place this is. But from the bottom of my heart, I tell you
how in awe of all of you I am and how much I congratulate you all for what you’ve accomplished
here. It’s really amazing. I live and work in Hollywood, and I also live
much of the year near Washington, DC. And in both places, the idea of a school such
as Founders is not very popular. My show business colleagues in the west and
my political friends in the east are very supportive of a more typical public school. They’re supportive only to the point of not
sending their children there. You might call that hypocritical, but I certainly
wouldn’t do that. [LAUGHTER]
I’ve been doing Wheel of Fortune since before all of you students were born, before most
of the faculty was born, perhaps before many of these buildings were built. [LAUGHTER]
And in that time, I’ve become used to the strange phenomenon of celebrityhood. And one of the things I’ve learned is not
to take it too seriously. Back in the 1950s, when The Today Show was
just getting started on NBC, it was hosted by a man named Dave Garroway. And a regular on the show, he was there every
day, was a chimpanzee named J. Fred Muggs. And J. Fred wore a suit and sat there, and
mugged and smiled, and did all the things chimpanzees do. And he was hugely popular. He was on magazine covers. He received thousands of fan mails. People loved J. Fred Muggs. So I figure, if a chimpanzee can become a
celebrity, there’s no need for me to take it too seriously when I go through life. I had another lesson on that a few years ago. I was at a Washington Nationals baseball game
with my son. And the game was over. We were sitting about three rows up from the
dugout. And I said, why don’t we wait, let the crowd
clear out? And as we were standing there, I noticed,
as you do– you learn to notice peripherally when someone’s coming at you to ask you for
an autograph or a picture or a handshake or whatever. But there was a group of young girls coming
over. And sure enough, they asked if I could take
a picture, and I said sure. And normally, when someone asks that, they
get next to you and then hand the camera to someone. In this case, they actually went to the row
in front of me looking up. And I’m thinking, you know, they’re very young
and I’m old. I don’t want to crawl over these seats down
here. So there was an awkward moment while we were
all trying to figure out how to handle the situation, when my son leaned over to me and
said, dad, they want you to take their picture. They had no idea. One must be humble. So I’ve gotten used to celebrityhood. I’ve also gotten used to being on television
in front of millions of people. I don’t think much about it now. But that’s not true of most of our players. And as a result, sometimes, they, in nervousness,
will say silly things. We had one case, and this had nothing to do
with nerves. This was something else. And this would not have happened if this player
had been educated in this place. It was during a college week, of all things. And a young man, a college junior, as I recall,
was working on the puzzle, which was as follows– mythological hero Achilles. And he was struggling. And all the letters got up there. So all he had to do was read it. He said, and I quote, “mythological hero ‘a-shill-eyes.'” [LAUGHTER]
So obviously, we couldn’t accept that. And look, I’m not making fun because people
make mistakes. But what was rather appalling was his attitude
about it. He was pretty unapologetic. And as we went to commercial, he leaned over
to me and said, well, I’m a business major, as if that excused things. And that speaks to a growing idea in this
country that secondary and higher education is about job training and not about learning
the things that make us better people and better citizens. These graduates here chose a different path,
a path that is certainly more difficult, certainly more challenging, but as you’ve heard from
them today, certainly more rewarding. They chose a path that recognizes the need
for an education that includes, as the mission statement here says, instruction in good character
and civic virtue. And when I’m not selling vowels, as you heard,
I’m the Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Hillsdale College. And putting my family aside, there’s nothing
in my life of which I’m more proud. I was there as plans evolved for Hillsdale’s
Barney Charter School Initiative. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Steve
Barney, an amazingly dedicated and generous man who feels strongly about the direction
of education and has forcefully and successfully begun to do something about it. We were just at the spring commencement meeting,
the board meeting. And you should know that every board member,
every member of the staff, faculty at Hillsdale, and some of whom you heard are here today,
really salutes what you’ve done and is behind you. And they are so excited about this first graduating
class. When you’re asked to give a commencement address,
the first thing you think about is, what can you possibly tell these young men and women
that they don’t already know? Especially here at Founders, where simply
because you chose to be educated in this particular way, I already know a great deal about them. I have a sense of their ambition and of their
standards. I have a pretty good idea of where their moral
compass points. And I know they’re not afraid of challenges. I know they have people in their lives who
care deeply about them. And I know that their futures will be filled
with accomplishments and good works. In short, I’m not sure there’s much need to
try to inspire a group like this. They have already been inspired. And what they’ve accomplished is inspiring. So let me instead suggest a pitfall to avoid
going forward, a pitfall not only for recent graduates, but for everyone in every corner
of American society. It has altered the way we talk to one another,
the way we perceive one another. It has perverted the notion of free speech,
poisoned the academic environment. It has turned the American political system
on its head, creating a situation where opposing views are not only unwelcomed, they are deemed
to be signs of evil intent. It has pitted friend against friend, coworker
against coworker, and has even caused rifts within families. I’m talking about identity politics, the attempt
not to unite us as Americans, but to divide us and set us against each other. The attempt to classify and categorize us
by all sorts of measurements and standards. The attempt to subvert the values of some
by proclaiming a new, superior set of values. And to a great degree, those who are making
these attempts are succeeding. And their efforts are changing our country
in fundamental ways. We are all members of groups. I’m of Polish descent. I’m a baby boomer, one of those tens of millions
born in the aftermath of World War II. I’m a male. I’m Caucasian. A proud Caucasian, by the way. But while all of these facts helped shape
me to varying degrees, I am mostly Pat Sajak. I am a unique individual, created by God and
blessed to be born in a country whose founders believed that that very creation endowed me
with unalienable rights– among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I grew up in an industrial area of Chicago. My parents were divorced. We often struggled to make ends meet, but
our struggles were no greater than millions of others. And I always believed that I could and I would
overcome them. It never occurred to me that I was the hopeless
victim of a system or that the success of others was inhibiting my ability to succeed. Envy and anger and resentment, these were
wastes of time and energy. I always believed that an individual by the
name of Pat Sajak would make something of himself. And I don’t mean becoming a TV personality. I mean improving my life, making a difference
in the lives of others, and growing up to become a contributing citizen of this great
country. Today, this graduating class is made up of
11 individuals who have worked hard to be in this place and in this situation. They are from various backgrounds. Each of them has to deal with a unique set
of challenges. But they did it. They were helped by parents, educators, friends,
supporters of the school, and a whole host of others. But you did it. As you move on, however, you will find a world
all too eager to diminish your accomplishment and minimize your individuality. Some of you will find yourselves in colleges
that will try to define you and separate you by race, religion, politics, social attitudes. You’ll be exposed to the notion that the truths
you learned here at Founders are, well, sort of truths, subject to prevailing winds; that
good character and civic virtue are flexible terms, open to interpretation and alteration. You’ll be courted by interests trying to establish
an us-against-them mentality. Some of you will encounter disdain because
you allegedly benefited from so-called privileges, while others will preach to you about your
victimhood and how you must now separate yourselves from the forces that held you back. You’ll be approached by political organizations
who will try to convince you that, because of the demographic groups to which you belong,
defined by age or race or gender, that you must think and act and vote in a particular
way, and that those who don’t share a defined set of views and attitudes are automatically
evil and malicious. Just as they try to diminish your individuality,
they will try to discourage you from looking at others as individuals. The media is complicit in this effort to label
things– sometimes entire generations. They love labeling folks. As I’ve said, I’m a baby boomer, according
to them. And you’ve heard a lot about millennials in
the last few years. I don’t think you’re millennials. I think you’re the next group, and they haven’t
figured out your name yet. But once they do– and it’s good not to be
a millennial, because some of the traits ascribed to them are not terribly flattering– narcissistic,
resentful of previous generations, addicted to their iPhones. Wait, I might be a millennial, now that I
think about it. In fact, if you’ll just indulge it, I forgot
to do something. Hold on just a moment. I’ve lost it. Oh, my gosh, my phone’s not here. Oh, here it is. I forgot to do this when I came up. Would you mind, folks? Just everybody, lean in a little bit that
way. [LAUGHTER]
All right. Hold on. How do you turn this around? Oh, I see. Are you ready? I can’t see you on that side a little bit. All right. On 3– 1, 2 3. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Of course, these generalizations about the
millennials are just that. They’re generalizations. My kids are millennials, and they’re pretty
good kids. And of course they use their phones more than
we did. If we wanted to use phones as a kid, we’d
have to carry around a five-pound device attached to a wall by a cord. And if we wanted to put wallpaper on it, we’d
have to go to the wallpaper store, cut out a piece of wallpaper in the shape of a phone,
and paste it to the phone. It’s a laborious task, and it’s very messy. As I said, there’s still some debate what
to call this generation. One is post-millennial, although I find that
kind of boring. There’s Generation Z. Have you heard that one? The 9/11 generation. Once they settle on naming you, they’ll break
it down and tell you how you act and what you wear and how you think. I prefer to think of this group as the first
members of the Founders Academy generation. And I don’t think you need to be told about
yourselves. I have the feeling you know yourselves pretty
well. I think you know how to measure your own success
and define what brings you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. The fundamental problem with identity politics
is that it reduces each of us. We are no longer human beings with individual
hopes and dreams. We are commodities. We are groups to be labeled and courted and
pandered to. We have no shared values of Americans, but
rather, we become a series of interest groups. We’re told what it’s thought we want to hear. And we divide ourselves into these pockets
of groupthink. And we begin to speak only with others in
our group. We know how we feel. We begin to decide ourselves into thinking
that the only valid and true and moral way to feel is the way we feel. As you’ve learned here at Founders, the good
and the true and the beautiful are not negotiable. They are not ideals that can be bent and shaped
by political or social means. On the Hillsdale College website, you’ll find
the following. “How do we measure good? Is it defined by the majority? Is it measured by self-satisfaction or personal
fulfillment? The good of anything is found in its ability
to accomplish what it was created for, to realize its purpose for existence as intended
by its maker. Only in this realization can something truly
be called good. “The good is possible only in the light of
truth. Not truth as it is often defined today by
personal preference or popular consensus, but truth as it is, independent from opinions
and emotions. And where goodness and truth exist, there
you will find beauty. We were created for a purpose. That purpose is not left to chance or whim,
but was determined by our maker and written in our nature. Our purpose is to seek truth in order to discover
and to act on what is good and beautiful in this life.” This will always be a special class here at
Founders Academy. No matter how many years pass, you 11 will
always be the first graduating class. That puts you in a special place with special
responsibilities. I urge you to resist those who would try to
undo the basic truths you learned here and just say no to those who try to classify and
ultimately divide you into opposing identities. You are not Generation Z or whatever they
want to call you. You are Bianca and Colton and Chase and Ashton. You are Claire and Ari. You are Jasmine and Ray and Emma. You are Basil. You are Natasha. You are the first graduating class of Founders
Classical Academy. I congratulate you, and I thank you.