The 4 Laws of Skydiving

I recently had the privilege to be the keynote speaker at the Houston High School Baccalaureate service, in Germantown, TN (my Alma Mater). It was truly an honor to be invites to such an occasion and to stand on the other side of the podium and remember what it felt like to be in the shoes of a graduating senior. I wanted to share the speech I gave to extend this challenge to others. I hope your are encouraged by this. [Below is the speech manuscript in its entirety. Special thank to my speech editors, Jessica Savage and Elissa Roberts.]

Houston High School 2011 - Baccalaureate Service
The 4 laws of skydiving  

Thank you for that introduction. It is indeed an honor to stand before you the 2011 graduating class of Houston High School. Doesn’t that sound good? Well done on the achievement of one of life’s great milestones. You should be very proud. Many thanks are due your Principal, Dr. Leisa Justus, members of the faculty and the proud parents who have invested countless hours and patient love to help you reach this goal.  

I am a proud member of the second graduating class of Houston High School, the class of 1994. I have decided that an invitation to speak at an event like this means only one thing…I am officially old!  I love looking out at all your faces.  You are excited, hopeful, tenacious and wonderfully naïve. The big, bad world cannot stop your entrance, and you cannot avoid it….and may I be the first to welcome you.  

It is my privilege today to present to you a few nuggets of wisdom as you prepare to launch out into the rest of your lives.  

A few years back I decided I would finally muster up the courage to go skydiving. Maybe it’s my intense personality or the rush of adrenaline they promise or maybe I’m crazy! I will never forget the feeling, the rush of jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet!  There is nothing quite like it. But what I learned that day is that skydiving is a lot like life. We stand at the edge of life or at a crossroads and we have to muster up the courage to jump.  Today, I’m looking out at all of you and I don’t see high school graduates – I see skydivers. All of you are about to leap into life, whether you like it or not. So, before you jump, let me give you the four laws of skydiving.  

The first law of skydiving is… Listen to others.  To go skydiving, at least the first few times, you must listen to the instructor. In fact, they make you watch a video and then sign your life away on a waiver; it’s a wonder anyone ever jumps! Your instructor and the training you receive are the keys to your safety and success while skydiving. In life, you will need to listen to the advice of others. In the Bible we read in Proverbs 19:20 “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”  Be wise to seek out trusted people to give you advice. Train yourself to be a listener. Listening requires humility.  You will regret the pride and arrogance that comes when you “know it all.” Like skydiving, life offers few “do overs.” Seeking advice and listening to others is a key ingredient for success in life. Believe it or not there are people in your life that want what is best for you – your teachers, parents, other family members and friends. Be wise and listen to others.    

The second law of skydiving is...Make a decision.  You will never skydive until you make the decision to skydive.  This decision comes long before you get into a plane.  No one, well very few, accidentally skydive, and no one recommends that.  I have found that in life, so many people are finished before they ever start. It is the simple act of indecision that keeps them, and their dreams, grounded and always wishing life was different. In fact, you may think that by waiting or not making a decision that you are doing some good, but in most cases, indecision adds to the confusion and may cause you to forfeit a great opportunity. You simply cannot underestimate the power of clear and confident decision-making in your life.  In the next 10 years you will likely make the largest number of major decisions in your life.  Think about it–many of you will decide where you will go to college, who will be your lifelong friends, what career path you will take, where you will live and possibly who you choose to marry. You simply cannot afford to be indecisive. You do not want an accidental life. You must be able and ready to make a decision.  

The third law of skydiving is…Have faith. There is no better way to phrase it. When the plane reaches 13,000 feet and that door opens the only thing left to do is have faith and “JUMP!” No one can prepare you for the many times in life when you must walk by faith instead of by sight. Faith by definition is to believe in something or Someone, you cannot see. In my life I have found my faith in the God of the Bible, to offer hope and strength when all seemed hopeless. Everyone needs faith to act as an internal compass that will guide you when the way is dark and the path is unclear.

Just over four years ago my wife and I faced a very dark time when the path we were on was very hard to see.  Our second child, Cooper, was born with Down Syndrome.  You may not have thought much yet about having children but let me tell you - no one expects their child to be born with special needs or illness.  We faced emotions we never thought we could have. This was simply not what we planned for and not what we wanted.  It’s funny how we don’t always have a vote regarding what happens in our lives. This required us to depend heavily on our faith in God. As we made our way through that valley our faith in God proved again to be trustworthy. God helped us see what we could not see.  I was given a gift I didn’t even know I needed. Through my son, Cooper, God taught me how to truly love someone for who he is and not what he can or cannot do for me. I am forever grateful for my son and the many around us with special needs.

I noticed a few young men and women in this room today who have special needs. I want you to know that you are important to this world and to us. We “normal” people need you in our lives because “normal” needs work. You show us courage, perseverance and grace. You are special not because of your disability but because of your rare ability to make us more loving, less selfish and all around better people. You deserve special honor today. So when life isn’t what you expected or wanted, have faith because without faith you will miss out on so many blessings you were meant to experience.  

The fourth and final law of skydiving…Enjoy the ride. As a two time skydiver I think everyone should have the chance to stand at the door of that airplane, fight every urge to cling to safety and throw yourself plummeting to the earth in a 120 mile per hour free fall and feel the rush that only skydiving offers. Once you pull the ripcord and discover that there actually is a parachute in there, you can enjoy the ride. All of a sudden everything is calm, strangely quiet, like sitting on your back porch listening to the breeze. It’s actually quite peaceful.   Too many people live stressed out lives, full of anxiety. We allow our happiness to depend on the approval of others or the economy or getting our way. Life becomes a race - but no one can really tell you where the finish line is. Everyone simply adopts a life of working really hard to have it all, yet live as if they are missing everything. The truth is, those who are generous and willing to serve others have found the secret of happiness; it’s giving, not taking.  Everyday you must choose to be a taker or a giver. I will warn you–choosing to be a taker will rob you of the ability to enjoy your life. There is something peaceful about helping others. In giving to others, somehow we receive exactly what we need to enjoy the life God has given us. Along the way be a giver, help others and live for something greater than yourself.   

So, today, my fellow skydivers, you stand 13,000 feet above your lives. Listen to the trusted people in your life, be decisive about your future, have faith when things are good and when things are bad and most of all enjoy the ride. The door is open. You get one jump. Make it count. God bless you and congratulations Houston High School Class of 2011.

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Posted by Andy Savage at 9:10 AM
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