Tabor graduation speaker: When life gives you lemons, ask why

Jun 1, 2018

If you don't like your life, trade it in and get a new one.

That was the advice that retired astronaut Story Musgrave gave to 141 graduating seniors at Tabor Academy on June 1.

The words came from a Stockbridge, Massachusetts native, who was born on a dairy farm and was driving a tractor before he was 10. "My whole resume is child labor," he joked.

Driving tractors in a remote field in the 1940s, Musgrave came across planes (or "tractors with wings" as he called them) and started working with the men who flew then. His first solo flight was only months later. He was 13.

What Musgrave shared with Tabor students, he said, was determination, stubbornness, and an industrious spirit. He dropped out of school his senior year due to a car accident, and joined the Marines, unsure of what else to do without a diploma. The Marines led to degrees in engineering, achieved only after Musgrave personally petitioned the dean of Syracuse University to let him study there.

"I never did get a high school diploma," he added. "I'm glad Tabor didn't mind."

When it comes to a good opportunity to learn, Musgrave told students, don't take no for an answer. "Life is just a series of opportunities. Never stop learning. And," he said, "always love what you do. You can't be good at something if you don't enjoy it."

Musgrave's humorous anecdotes and solid advice led to a standing ovation—as did the advice of Class of 2018 member Brian Lee. Lee challenged his fellow students "to embrace cliches"—and to question them.

"Everybody knows that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade," he said. "But what if I don't like lemonade? What about sorbet? Where are the lemons from, and who's giving them to me?"

Cliches, he said, are a good explanation for life sometimes. Tabor taught him that. "I'm glad Tabor accepted me. It was literally my only acceptance," he joked. "But without it, I would've never undergone the transformation that allowed me to stand in my underwear in front of 500 people. That was for a musical by the way, I didn't just do it," he clarified to laughter.

He told students to embrace the cliches, and question them. "You'd be surprised where it leads you. So when life gives you lemons, give them to someone else, and make their day."