Here’s the text of what I said last night at McCarter Graduation. It was a great night and a lot of fun. I am thankful to the principal and staff for giving me this opportunity.
I realize that I am the biggest obstacle between you and cake & ice cream at this moment.
My name is Grant English and I’m the pastor of Western Hills Baptist Church as well as a Topeka Fire Department Chaplain. But that really isn’t what you need to know about me for tonight. What you need to know is this — I LOVE to travel. LOVE it. And this past February I got to go to Budapest, Hungary. My wife (Amy) went with me and we got to try a lot of new things, enjoy a lot of new experiences.
And I thought I’d show you all 237 pictures I took on the trip. Is that okay? Okay, how about just a couple?
Now what does international traveling have to do with a 5th grader graduating to the 6th grade? Quite a lot, really. Going to middle school is a lot like traveling in a foreign country. It’s a new culture, with new customs and traditions that you don’t know about yet or understand . They dress a little different, smell a little different. There is a new language. And even the food is different. Everything is just a little, sometimes a lot different.
And tonight I just want to give you a couple of pieces of advice that have helped me in traveling to foreign countries and I think will help you travel to your foreign country called Middle School.
This is my beautiful bride Amy and we are standing on the Citadel where the German army had their fort in WWII. That is the beautiful Danube River with Parliament there in the background and the famous Chain Bridge — it’s just a beautiful city.
And the blue pole. You see that blue pole? What in the world is a blue pole doing there? Can you believe that I’m on this great trip, this once in a lifetime trip and this blue pole happens in my picture? I mean, it totally ruins it doesn’t it? Why didn’t I crop that out of the picture? I mean — who wants a blue pole in their vacation pictures? Guess who took this picture and put the blue pole in my picture? My brother-in-law.
And this picture was taken just outside of Budapest, the first castle ever for the country of Hungary, in a little town called Visegrad. Built in 1100 AD and I had to take a picture of the catapult.
BUT…do you see that black thing in the bottom left corner of the picture? Guess whose shoulder that is? That’s right, my brother-in-law. Can you believe that I’m on this great trip, once in a lifetime trip and he walks into my picture? I mean, it totally ruins it doesn’t it? I mean — who wants their brother-in-law’s shoulder in their vacation pictures?
This is the same castle and we are on top of the wall. And normally you could see the Danube River and the mountain range across the river but…not today. Why? Because it was cloudy, foggy, and rainy.
Guess who took us this castle on a foggy, rainy, cloudy day? That’s right – my brother-in-law. I mean, what was he thinking? In fact, the fog ruins the picture here. I mean, can you believe that I’m on this great trip, this once in a lifetime trip and this fog rolls in, this stupid picture of fog? I mean, it totally ruins it, doesn’t it? I mean, who wants fog in their vacation pictures?
Think I’m being a bit harsh? Did my brother-in-law really ruin these pictures? No. Here’s the point — when you hit 6th grade — it’s this great trip, it’s a once in a lifetime trip. And you will have some blue poles, some peoples shoulders, and some bad weather on your trip. Stuff will happen that you don’t want to happen, there will be some obstacles that you have to overcome, to deal with — but it doesn’t have to ruin the whole trip. It doesn’t have to ruin the whole picture.
You have the power to CHOOSE to enjoy ALL of the view. ALL of the view – the good, the bad, the ugly — it can ALL be learned from and make you a better person. Enjoy ALL of the View. Choose to enjoy it — that’s a choice we make. To either enjoy it or complain about it. Choose to enjoy. It will make it a better journey.
Let me show you a couple more pictures.
The best thing about traveling is tasting the new food. By the way, you know who this guy is in the picture with me? That’s right – my brother-in-law. And he introduced me to the 2nd most awesomest food in Budapest. (That’s not a word? Most awesome is correct?) This is called langosh. It’s a piece of fried bread covered with cream cheese or goat cheese with sausage or bacon on top of that then grated cheese on top of that.
Here is another pic. They make piping hot right there in front of you and it’s like pizza on steroids. Just incredible. But what you really want to know is this – what is the 1st most awesome food in Hungary.
This is the 1st most awesome piece of food in Hungary. It’s called Kurtischolatch. It’s fresh baked bread, toasted then dipped in whatever you like….chocolate, coconut, almonds but the best is cinnamon.
Here’s a close-up of the finished product. They have these little food trucks that make them and they sit in the little town squares on sell them. I bought bags of them. But the best way to eat these thins is with Hungarian coffee. And here is an example of coffee.
Here’s Amy and I in this cafe with this ridiculous coffee. That’s whip cream with hot chocolate with coffee with caramel with creme. That’s what I’m talking about.
And by now you’re probably asking — what does this have to do with going to middle school? And the answer is absolutely nothing. I just wanted to share my pictures with you.
Actually the Hungarian dinner experience can teach us a lot about succeeding in middle school. Dinner is a long event. About a 2 to 3 hour experience. When you sit down in a restaurant, you are their guest and that table is yours for the night. There is no hurry to get you in and out of the establishment. Your waiter is more than just a waiter — he is responsible to make sure that you have the best dinner experience possible.
So we sit down in this restaurant and our waiter asks us for our order and a few tables over, I see this incredible piece of meat, it just smells incredible. I start to speak to the waiter through our translator – what is that? He tells me it’s a roasted pork that just falls off the bone. I say – I would like that.
And the waiter smiles and nods and writes down my order on his little black tablet.
And he says — what soup would you like? Well…I was thinking about a salad but soup sounds pretty good. And he tells me the soup selections and eventually I pick out a soup.
And the waiter smiles and nods and writes down my order on his little black tablet.
Now I have to choose a side for my dish. I listen to all the different sides and there were really only two that stuck out to me.
One was a pickled cucumber slaw with cabbage and vinegar. It stood out to me because there was no way I was ordering that. Ever. I like to try new things but there are some things that you just know that you are going to hate or make you sick. So you do the best you can to avoid it. The other was this thing that loosely translated potato medallions. So I order the potato medallions.
And the waiter does NOT smile. He does not nod his head. He does not write down my order in his little black tablet. He just stands there looking back and forth from the translator to me. He’s very subtly shaking his head — no.
He says something to the translator. The translator says something back. They go on for a few seconds until finally I say — what is going on? The waiter says that the potato medallions are NOT the ideal choice for this dish. I say — okay — what is? I’m all about new experiences.
Guess which one he says? That’s right – the pickled cucumber slaw with cabbage and vinegar.
I smile — just being as polite as I can be — I’d really like the potato medallions. And the waiter doesn’t move, just stands there. Just rocking back and forth, visibly disturbed that I am going to miss out on the ideal meal with the ideal sides just because I want potato medallions.
The waiter starts talking really fast and the translator is trying to keep up with what the waiter says — You should try the pickled cucumber slaw with cabbage and vinegar, you will love this. It’s very good. Especially if you like cucumbers or cabbage or pickles or vinegar or slaw. It goes perfectly with this dish in its taste and color, it balances the meal.
I smile ever bigger — I appreciate that. I’m sure it does. But I don’t like pickles or cucumbers or slaw or cabbage or vinegar. I love potatoes.
And the translator doesn’t translate for me. Instead she says to me –
“Grant. He’s going to bring the pickled cucumber slaw with cabbage and vinegar whether you order it or not. He is committed to bringing you the best sides and soups and drinks that goes with your entree. He wants you to have the best Hungarian meal that you’ve ever had. He will stop at nothing short of that. He wants you to choose it because it’s more gracious that way but he is going to bring it because he wants you to have the best.”
She continued…”So Grant, the only real choice in front of you is to either be an arrogant, angry American OR be a gracious, thankful learner of culture. Which one do you want to be?”
Do you see how this relates going to the foreign land of middle school? As you go off to middle school – you are going to have these waiters called teachers and they are committed to bringing to you the best they can to make you smarter, deeper, better people. Committed to bringing out the best in you. And they will do that – no matter what you order off the menu. No matter what class you take, what sport or activity, you will have a guide, coach or teacher who wants to bring out the best in you. And you will not always like what they bring to the table. But that’s not important. What’s important is how you handle that situation. And how you handle that situation will determine whether or not you will be successful.
The key decision in front of you is this — will you be an arrogant, angry kid OR a gracious, thankful learner?
The arrogant, angry kid never learns. Never changes. Never really tries new things or grows as a person. The arrogant, angry kid only thinks of himself and will never become great. The gracious, thankful learner is someone who listens and tries new things. Who is eager to learn and because of that will grow as a person and be gracious to others.
This little decision makes all the difference in the world no matter how old you get, no matter how many foreign lands you visit.
Would you like to hear how the story ends?
I choose to be the gracious, thankful learner. I mean, I didn’t want to ruin every one else’s night by arguing with the waiter. Besides that — I might even like this pickled cucumber slaw thing. So I smiled real big and I ordered the pickled cucumber slaw with cabbage and vinegar.
And the waiter transformed before my eyes and he smile and laughed and nodded and write down those magic words in his little black tablet, he patted me on my back and he scurried off to the kitchen. And then in a short time later, he comes out with these trays of food and I get my soup and …. oh my gosh — it’s outstanding. It’s the best soup I have ever tasted.
Then comes the main course with the fall off the bone pork and it smelled incredible and it was on a bed of something — not even sure what it was but it was awesome. Just perfect. Then he slid next to me a bowl of pickled cucumbers and slaw, cabbage and vinegar. And he stood next to me. And looked at me. And he was waiting for me to try it.
So I did. And you know what?
It was awful. It tasted every bit as bad as I imagined it would. I mean, it took everything inside me not to just spit that stuff across the table onto the person sitting across from me. It was terrible.
So what’s the point?
Because I tried it. And I didn’t argue with the guy. And we laughed about it all. He ended up bringing out a plate of those potato medallions. And it was one of the greatest meals I’ve ever had.
The point is this — CHOOSE to enjoy all the view. The good and the bad. Sometimes you get great food, sometimes not so great but our attitude should never change. CHOOSE to be a gracious, thankful learner.
As you leave the familiar confines of McCarter and head off into middle school, you’re going to have great experiences, some good experiences with blue poles and shoulders in the pictures and you will even have some cucumber slaw, wretched awful experiences.
What will make the difference is your attitude in the middle of those experiences.
Choose to enjoy ALL of the view. Choose to be a gracious, thankful learner and the success that you’ve had at McCarter will follow you where ever you go.
Thank you and Congratulations on your graduation.