Billy Reed: Wise words to graduates — stay forever young, hold onto your principles, reach for the stars

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May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others,
And let others do for you.

Those are the opening lines to “Forever Young,” a song written by Bob Dylan and released on the album “Planet Waves” in 1974.

Since then, it has been covered by Ron Stewart, Judy Collins and many other artists drawn to its message of idealism and hope.

For older folks, it is a reminder that age is just a number. We may grow old in body, but we don’t have to grow old in spirit unless we’re ready to give up the dreams of our youth.

For younger folks, it is a challenge to never let cynicism overcome the essential goodness that you’ve been taught in your homes, schools, and churches. This is terribly difficult in these times when there seem to be no heroes anywhere.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Our nation and our world need new ideas, new leaders, new ways of looking at old problems. But those things are impossible without the principles of basic human decency.

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young…

I was touched by the song the first time I heard it, and I still love to hear it and think about it. I read it as a toast to my daughter Amy and her husband Rob when they were married in 1998.

Today I offer it as a gift to those graduating from high school and college. The world needs you to stay forever young. It needs you to right the wrongs that we see around us every day.

When I was a young boy, my grandfather, Clell Cockrell, told me this: “Always remember your good name is your most important possession.” Over all these years, I’ve found that he was exactly right.

Your good name is what people think of you. Are you known to be honest, trustworthy, kind and unselfish? Or are you known for your ability to make money, accumulate things, and live the good life without caring about the plight of the poor, the sick, the homeless, the addicted, and the oppressed?

What kind of reputation do you want to have? I’ve found that giving is far more important, and satisfying, than giving. And I’m not talking just about giving money. I’m talking about the giving of yourself to your family, friends, and noble causes.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.

We live in an age of “fake news.” We live in an age where everywhere we turn, somebody seems to be lying to us. We live in an age where all of us are confused by information overload.

It hurts me deeply to know that the media is held in such low regard, because the media – newspapers, magazines, radio and TV – is how I was blessed to make my living.

I say “blessed” because that’s how I still view it. I can’t remember any days where I hated going to work. I always tell young people that when you’re thinking about a career, money should not be the driver.

Find something you enjoy and at which you are reasonably good. I promise your chances of happiness will be much greater than friends who live in bigger houses and drive fancier cars, but who are apathetic toward their jobs.

I’m proud of being journalist. Although our work has been compromised and diluted in the age of technology, I still believe that writers, reporters and editors are essential to our form of government. And as we see daily, many are still doing important work.

But whatever field this year’s graduates select, I hope each of them make their education count for something. Heaven only knows, we need more people who are not only educated, but who will stand up for tolerance, inclusion, and diversity.

May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young…

Just because we have so much trouble finding heroes in sports, entertainment, government and business, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any. It just means they’re closer to home.

Think of the parents who sacrificed so this year’s graduations could get the best education they could afford. Think of the teachers, the clergymen, the coaches, and the mentors who invested something of themselves in trying to send a young person down the right path.

The best way to pay them back is to be of service to others. I don’t necessarily mean being a police officer, or a firefighter, or a member of the armed forces. I mean becoming a Little League coach, or leading a prayer group, or volunteering to help one of the many groups who take care of the least among us.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation

I would love to see more intelligent young people get involved in government or politics. Yes, that might mean making less money or surrendering some privacy. But if there’s one thing that we’ve learned about our government, it needs smart, caring people who have the courage of their convictions.

Despite our problems, this is still the greatest country on earth. But we are not great because of how we use our military might to bully the world. We are great because we always have strived to fulfill the promises of our Constitution, the one that promises freedom, justice, and equality for all, regardless of their color, religious belief, or country of origin.

Our principles are living, breathing things. They must never be overcome by cynicism or apathy. They must be protected at all costs, and I hope and pray that all graduates will vow to do their part to leave a better nation to their children and grandchildren.

When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young.

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award twice. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades, but he is perhaps one of media’s most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby

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