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2013 Commencement Address: Mr. Rusty Haynes

rustyhaynesThe Colorado Springs School’s College Counselor, Rusty Haynes delivered the Commencement Address to the Class of 2013.

Class of 2013, I wish to thank you. It is a privilege and an honor to have this opportunity to welcome you into the next phase of your life.

You made it. It’s your day. I never had any doubts. Well, maybe a few………thousand. Boy, the changes you put me through. Ha. Ha. Just kidding! You are all truly fantastic!

Remember your first few days in the Upper School? Even though some of you were together for many years before that, do you remember feeling like everyone else had it together and you didn’t? You were tentative, fearful and unsure. What a change we see now!! I remember your first days in the Upper School. Didn’t think I noticed you until you were juniors, did you?

During your time here, many of you overcame major obstacles: personal losses, health problems, and learning challenges. You did so with great poise, dignity and grace, never complaining and over time you persevered and even excelled gaining the respect of many of us in this audience today. You are stronger now, and much more self-assured. It is that obvious.

For those of you from other countries, being here has involved strength, courage, personal commitment and much sacrifice on the part of your families over an extended period of time. I have enjoyed watching the personal interaction between our students that reaches far beyond the borders of our countries and our governments and makes CSS a much better place because of it.

This day represents not just a graduation or a final curtain call, but rather a commencement. By definition, a commencement means a beginning or a new start. That is what we are celebrating here today.

This class reminds me of myself at this age, in many ways, and also of where I grew up in Oklahoma. I grew up in a small town called Perry, down the road from the 101 Ranch, a ranch of 101,000 acres. In a small ranching and farming community, nestled in the middle of several oil wells and wheat fields: a community that was one of the territorial land office towns during the Cherokee Strip land run. I know that some of you are a little surprised by this information, especially given my obvious lack of accent. While growing up in Perry, I learned a lot of very important lessons: for instance, never turn your back on a bull, that you should probably not use a pickup with a clutch to pull up tree stumps and also never, ever squat down by a campfire with your spurs on.

In my hometown, the Western Code was very much alive and well when I was growing up. In spite of the push to become a strong independent type, the ultimate compliment back home was to be recognized as one who Rode for the Brand. In essence, what this means, is always being loyal to the brand and what it represents. In fact, the ultimate honor, at the time, was to be recognized as representing the brand well. When my father passed away, a young man from a local farming family stood up and read a poem by Red Steagall, one of my favorite cowboy poets. This poem truly reflects the essence of the term Ride for the Brand. I’d like to share a little of that poem with you right now.

He said, “Son, a man’s brand
Is his own special mark
That says this is mine, leave it alone.
You hire out to a man,
Ride for his Brand
And protect it like it was your own.

But I got to thinkin,
‘Bout what he had said
And the more of it I understand.
The more I believe
We’d all be better off
If more people would Ride for the Brand.

This is a branding iron. Later on, ear tags replaced them; I’ve noticed that a few of you like to wear ear tags as well.

Branding irons were used to identify one’s property or to apply a brand. However, they came to represent much more than just that. They came to represent what the brand stands for: loyalty and a solid representation of the individual, their family, and their community; and the values and personal characteristics that they each represented.

I learned that no matter how far I was from home, I was always connected to this brand and to that community. You represent a different community; however, one just as important and binding—A community and a brand called CSS: one of friends, classmates, and mentors. Even though there are no fences, cattle or range riders, it is still very much the same.

When I encourage you to Ride for the Brand, I’m asking you to represent yourself, your family, your community, and in this case, even your school in the best way possible.

—To always be loyal to the Brand and what it stands for, the values and the skills that you will take with you when you leave us.

You are quite a group. You have learned to listen with an open mind, to laugh at your own mistakes and to accept constructive criticism. You have also learned the importance of networking and of personal experience. You have become experienced travelers, diplomats and researchers. No matter what the challenge or the obstacle; you have displayed personal passion, dedication and motivation. Sometimes, I must admit, with an almost zombie-like gaze, especially during finals week, in the end, you always got the job done.

Hopefully, you will learn and accomplish as much in the next four years as you have in the past four years, and you will continue to use the skills and expertise that you demonstrated and developed while here at CSS. I encourage you to continue to carry the values, information, and experience you developed here. Do not strive to impress others, but instead strive for your own personal perfection, your own personal goals.

Remember what you’ve accomplished, and the growth and the challenges you have overcome. Dare to be different, discover new resources, step outside your comfort zones, and strive to make new friends, just like you did here. Be yourself and continue to be the risk takers and the adventurers we have come to know. I know that if you do, the resulting growth and the changes in you will continue to be extraordinary.

Remember that feeling you experienced while walking in the door for the first time of the Upper School? That is kind of what you’ll be experiencing this fall, except for the fact that you will be bringing many skills and experiences with you. Yes, there may be some doubts. And, yes, there may be a few questioning phone calls home or to my office. Even so, we know that you can do it. You have already proven that here.

This fall, you will enter a new environment, perhaps just as strange as CSS was at the outset of Upper School. Some of that same uncertainty and doubt might return. This is not unlike a ranch hand that sets out to check the herd, following different cow paths; never certain where they might lead or what might arise along the trail. You are certainly prepared for this ride. But remember, life is full of surprises. Do not expect an easy or obvious path to your goals. Numerous challenges will crop up. Even so, please remember that without challenge, there is no growth.

My charge to you today is to become the best person that you possibly can, and in doing so, honor your roots, your parents, your community, and your school. And, always remember to Ride for your Brand.”