The Hammond Times Interview with my dad
Whiting High School Class of 1966
Commencement Address
Andrew M Kalapach

In 1966, my father was asked to give the commencement address at Whiting High School, his alma mater. My father didn't take the assignment lightly. He was extremely proud and honored to have been afforded this opportunity. I was 11 years old at the time. I remember my dad making me come into the living room, sit down and be his audience as he practiced his speech. This wasn't something high on a 11 year old's "priority list" I can tell you that much. Dad hardly ever missed an opportunity to teach me a little "discipline" when he got the chance. This was no exception. As time has past, I've thought about how I dreaded those practice runs of the speech as a kid. It's funny how things change when you grow up. I'd give anything for just one more run through of that speech today.

A few months after my dad's passing, I happened to think about my father giving the Commencement Address. I wanted to read it all these years later. The next time I spoke with mom I asked her if she had seen it. I vividly had an image of the yellow notepaper my father used planted in my memory. Mom said she hadn't seen it and had no idea where it was. I knew it was there somewhere. I knew it was just too special to my dad to have not kept it. When mom passed and I came home to attend to affairs, one afternoon I decided to look for it. I went in the basement where there were many boxes of things. The very first box I opened, there it was. I looked up to the heavens and said to myself, " Pops... You really wanted me to find this, didn't you?"

You must remember the times. This was back in the 60's. As I write this, over 40 years ago. There are some references that were synonymous with growing up in the town of Whiting at that time. I never read the entire speech. At the time too young, later the speech just sat filed away with other things my dad had saved. My jaw dropped when I read parts of this speech. My father's concerns some 40+ years ago. They weren't addressed and now America, as far as I'm concerned, is teetering on the edge of disaster. If my dad were here today, I'm certain he'd say the same thing.

Drew Kalapach


Subject: "Enter to Grow - Depart to Serve"

Members of the W.H.S. graduating class of 1966, members of the clergy, gentlemen of the school board, Supt. Gallivan, Principal Mateja, parents & friends all.

Everyone's life or career is usually punctuated with certain highlights - memorable occasions and tonight I am experiencing a most memorable event, that of returning to my H. S. Alma Mater and addressing a graduating class. Such an opportunity comes but to a few and for this opportunity I am indeed very grateful.

25 years ago, I too sat here in these same surroundings, eyeing critically a commencement speaker and awaiting the reception of that most cherished document - a high school diploma. I think that it was about the same time that I stopped collecting stamps and started playing post office.

Walking to this gymnasium this evening brought back fond memories of wonderful, exciting and carefree days. Many of you in the audience, of whom I know so many, join me, I am sure, in the same kind of recollection and share in the nostalgia of those wonderful school days.

I can recall so vividly my first school dance - My "skinny" escort with braces on her teeth and then that hurt feeling when I overheard her talking to others about my two left feet. In those days you just couldn't get away with dancing the waltz or the 2 step with two left feet. Now, I know I would have done well doing the Frug, the monkey, or Jerk or the Twist with the same 2 left feet.

I will always remember the football games and the night practices under Coach Gallivan. Boy, what a coach! He made scrawny 140 lbs boys feel as though we could take on the Chicago Bears. It was tough coaching at Whiting in those days. The coach had to have 4 sets of signals. Polish, Slovak, Croatian & English. We even had a special tackle around play for a monster of a Hungarian D.P. The only thing that stopped him from running on that play was the Hungarian National Anthem. I'll tell you here and now that those popular Polish jokes of today would have caused riots in certain parts of Whiting in those days.

And my first H.S. report card and my Dad's statement as he eyed the grades. "Son, you couldn't possibly have cheated with grades I see here." One thing though, I didn't give teachers or anyone much trouble.... How much trouble can you get into standing in the corner all day.

Considering that long speeches are injurious to an audience, I shall adopt a custom from an African tribe that made it mandatory that a public speaker stand on one foot.... as soon as the foot touches the ground - the speech comes to an end. Sometimes, forcibly with a long spear in the posterior.

Most speakers when called on for a presentation try to choose a topic or subject that is tailored to the makeup of the audience. I find that a commencement ceremony is usually attended by four rather distinct & interested parties. The breakdown would probably be something like this: Parents & friends, faculty, administration and, of course, the graduating class.

I would imagine that the parents would like to hear some serious sermonizing by the commencement speaker conditioning the young graduate for the tough road ahead - the long hours of serious work for those going to college... The "no time for play" aspect of their lives from now on.

The teachers should be acknowledged.... after being worn down from preparing the student for adult roles. Should the speaker not mention their efforts in developing the young prot?s. The hours of frustration when our system requires that you lump together into a classroom individuals have the same age yet there is a great range in psychological age and maturation. Yet many expect the same results and progress by all. I suppose we could talk some length regarding the rigid rules governing teachers salaries & remuneration.

The school administrators would like some mention at the close of the school term, I'm quite sure. Are not they working tirelessly for a school system possessing high standards of excellence! Should not someone sympathetic to their cause come in and explain to all the pressures they feel when on one hand they have the peoples mandate to keep taxes down and on the other hand clamor for the best, the most modern, progressive school system in the state.

Somehow, I feel that the evening belongs to the young Whiting High School graduates. I'm sure that the entire community of Whiting is proud of their achievements and extends to them a most deserved congratulations.

Tonight you graduates of Whiting become a very special and important group for on you falls an obligation far heavier than was laid upon my own generation. You and others like you are a part of a up and coming great moral force to which America is turning to for new concepts, new ideas, imagination and rededication to basic principles. Your accomplishments have already started. You have struggled past many obstacles, many temptations that confront the young person today. You have left the "dropouts" by the wayside, you have shunned the lure of a so-so job and easy money for the discipline of school classes and concentrated study. You have warded off the influence of bad companions for the finer association with the young ladies and gentlemen preparing for purposeful lives. To have done this is a credit to your parents, your school and above all, it is a credit to yourselves. You have already hurdled a barrier of considerable proportions - a barrier which has overcome so many of the young people of our day.

Another significant stage has been reached by a considerable number of you graduates. Let's call it the saturation stage for want of a more suitable description. In this stage the young students brain is saturated with information, data, theories, formulas & historical fact. This storehouse of knowledge is of various sizes & dimensions for each individual student. And as we do some strict accounting of the test papers & oral interrogations of teachers we can assume that the valedictorian's and salutatorian storehouse of knowledge and information is the largest since they accumulated the highest grade index.

But like the intricate spaceship and its complex paraphernalia, standing on a launching pad, poised for Mars.... it is just so much inventory, bulk storage, if you will.... even its justification is in question... Unless a most vital function takes place and that is performance... creativity.

Until now you as students have been taught to think within limits, your education has been fixed by and large by assigned lessons. You were required to know what your textbooks contained and what the teachers told you.

Whether it was the athletic field, laboratory, classroom, music room... all had a very definite purpose in your development and growth. In these activities you were graded fairly and squarely by experienced teachers who have seen many pass their way. Whether or not you gave to the limit of your capacity can only be answered by the whispers of your conscience. But in all of these things and in this manner our educational system has passed on to you the best schooling, the very best of traditions and culture... and now you in turn take them as tools and go forth and perform and create and return to your heirs something better, something finer, something nobler... and there you have the cycle.

This in its simplest terms characterizes the human spirit... the strive for perfection. Unconsciously or consciously this cycle represents the very reason for our existence.

Perhaps some of you are saying... tell us about the opportunities that await us. What of our choices? Where do we go to work, perform and create? Well, it doesn't take a mental giant to realize that opportunities are all about us. America stands today as the envy of every nation on earth in its offerings to our youth of opportunity. The fact is today... this evening, each one of you can select any vocation and embark on any career. just look at the thousands of newspaper ads searching for talent, the hundreds of opportunities in company programs, the career days we have spent with you, the scholarships that go begging. No young men and ladies, opportunity is all about you.... just reach out.

But I would like to take a moment to discuss with you this business of performance and creativity. An area where I think many of us are misinformed and have some mistaken notions. So many people have the illusion that success is a matter of chance... that success belongs to the gifted, to the highly intelligent, those that fall into the genius category.

Now, since the experts tell us that few people utilize more than 10% of their brain power... could it be that the so called gifted people operate in this just above 10% range somewhere and then couple this with plain old fashioned hard work and there you may have the makeup of the exceptional or outstanding individual. In other words, they look so good because the rest of us don't operate on all cylinders.

In my association with what I think are exceptional executives, I find that the key to much of their success seems to be their great capacity for work. So when we speak of success today, we may just be speaking of plain old-fashioned work & determination and nothing more.

If we can use Michelangelo's work as an example. However, let's set aside his tremendous talent in painting & sculpture for the moment... the great artistry of his brush, his inspiring depth in his work... his genius in color adaptation. Let's set them aside. Let's look at the other ingredients. Picture if you will a scaffold 70 feet high. Consider the physical effort in climbing to the top each day for 4&1/2 years to work atop the Sistine Chapel in the Basilica of St. Peters in Rome. The thousands & thousands of hours in restriction, confinement & solitude, on his back stroking away by candlelight just to immortalize his work the great painting of the Creation & Last Judgment. It is said that his eyes never returned to normal focus after the completion of this work. And when Michelangelo was too old to paint & sculpture, he turned to poetry and then in his last days he was renown for his architectural ability.

So many of us just see the final result and do not realize that determination & work were the other ingredients. There were perhaps many with Michelangelo's talent in that day, but the other ingredients were missing. Perhaps they preferred to be mesmerized by the frills of their day as so many are mesmerized by the television tube today.

Noah Webster's dictionary.... an important book for generations & generations to come. One or two year effort by Webster? 5 or 10? No friends... 36 years of daily concentration & hard work to produce this important work.

Joseph Haydn, the Austrian composer, let's talk of work here. Over 1000 compositions before the age of 35. Consider the number of hours and hours in the solitude of his room, the thousands of revision and changes & additions... and finally the beautiful work we all enjoy, which will live on through the ages.

Talent, knowledge, ability, yes, but also work and perseverance.

Thomas A. Edison. Take this grand old man as an example of determination and work. Some of us credit him with the light bulb and some perhaps remember him for the microphone. But the U.S. Patent Office has him listed for over 1000 inventions. He died in his laboratory at the age of 83 working on another invention. But the amazing fact about his career is that he did all this without a formal education. In fact he was sent home from school at 7 or 8 with a placard about his neck reading that he was too "stupid to learn". So many of us talk retirement at age 55 or 60 or 65. Read Edison's life and thoughts of retirement at an early age might be embarrassing to your conscience.

We mention these great men of the past as examples of the kind of effort that may be necessary by a greater number of individuals if America is to retain & maintain a position of leadership in the world in many fields. Because whether you are an optimist or a pessimist we face uncertain times as a nation and as a people. On the surface it would seen as though we are emerging successful at every turn. Our standard of living is unequaled and for this we are grateful and pardonably proud. But if we think in depth can we ascertain without doubt that our progress is on solid ground - our standard of living the result of sound philosophies. Are these things labeled as progress true and clear-cut when on the other side of the ledger we have our economy creaking under the greatest national debt in history... greater than the combined debts of all the other nations of the world.

My generation seems committed to this business of buying now and pay later. Complete apathy surrounds this problem. Here we ask you young people to look into these problems carefully.... reach a decision. I am sure your generation will not wish to add to this "Great Mortgage" to be passed on to a future generation.

My generation has worked in some gray areas with respect to basic principles. Take our constitution as an example, distorted to suit the purposes of the special interest groups. To you young people we thrust the responsibility of rededication to its principles. From among you graduates we hope to find the same kind of great men that in bold signatures attested in the Last Sentence of the Declaration of Independence the following:

"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge our Lives, Our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor."

Would we not all of us like to have in government today people of this stature willing to make this pledge?

From this class and millions like you across this land tonight we ask you not to shrink from this challenge - we ask you to look into these matters..... roll up your sleeves in preparation of important work that is ahead of you. Participate and get involved in your government, do not allow those unqualified, unpatriotic to positions of influence in your government where policies affecting us all are made.

You now move into an era of great excitement, fascination, curiosity & change. Your fine schooling at Whiting has prepared you for this world of challenge - will open new vistas of deeper appreciation of life's vast panorama of experiences. Set your sights high and you will have fun reaching for your targets. A good sense of humor is so important - so delightful.

Mr. Gallivan, I have seen these young people in action. I have seen the eagerness with which they have sought challenge. There is something refreshing about this young group of people. I sense something stirring in young America.

There willingness to work behind steel mill gates, at odd hours in the shadows of great Blast Furnaces & Open Hearths to better themselves & save for furthering their education. Some perhaps leaving tonight at midnight. This to me is an indication that among these young people we have our Michelangelo's, Webster's, Edison's. They will return with glory to W.H.S. and soon. Their deeds will be America's destiny.

It has been my pleasure to speak to you young people this evening. If I could just leave you with just one thought, one reminder of your commencement ceremony. This would be it. Your school color is green. Green signifies movement, progress, go. As in the springtime it signifies newness, being alive, freshness, vigor, unfatigued. At every intersection in life, ask yourself if you are an on the go person, are you moving ahead, on the right track, is your direction straight and clear. Avoid the color red, the stoplight that represents stagnation, stoppage, complacence, indifference, apathy.

Let green be your color throughout life. Let it haunt you to represent action. The green light is now turned on. W.H.S. graduating class of 1966 - GO.

Andrew M Kalapach

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