There really wasn’t room to run an entire speech in our local high school graduation coverage in recent weeks.
But I wanted to share this one by Cedarcrest history teacher Zach Pittis, made at the Lower Valley high school’s commencement ceremony. Pittis earned quite a few chuckles from his touching, funny delivery, all while driving home some important lessons.
The tale begins when Pittis was 10 years old, and his dad, probably without consulting the boy’s mother, bought him a toy bow and arrow set.
“This trumped all other presents,” Pittis told the large commencement crowd at Overlake Christian Church “Within minutes, I was out on the patio, wildly flinging arrows at the paper target… On no occasion did I hit the bullseye.”
Days of practice later, his skill seemed no better. So one day, when his family was away, Pittis decided: “I need a better arrow.”
After quick modification of a shish kabob skewer and a few in-kitchen test flights, he took aim with bow and skewer at his outdoor milk-carton target—bullseye.
“This is the first lesson,” Pittis told his listeners. “You really can’t confuse effort with results. Far too often, the message that young people receive is that hard works pays off. But we live in a results-oriented world. As you move on in life, think abut how you can work harder and smarter. Sometimes, that requires you to find a better arrow.”
The second lesson followed, when 10-year-old Pittis went to retrieve his super skewer.
“I reach out to grab it and the arrow moves.” First a few wiggles, then it’s violently shaking. Horrified, young Zach realized that the neighbor’s cat had nestled for a nap inside his target. That was when he heard his parents’ car pull up.
“Am I going to cover my tracks or fess up? I told my dad, and he was able to rescue Fluffy. She was able to make a nice recovery. She hunted mice for the rest of her days, kind of with a slight limp.”
Young Zach endured a difficult conversation with the cat’s owner, was grounded for the summer, and was never gifted with a BB gun.
“The best laid plans and intentions can have unexpected and sometimes unpredictable outcomes,” Pittis said. “It’s how you deal with these turns of events that define and shape you.
“I hope you handle all the unpredictable circumstances with integrity and grace. Work hard to improve your aim. And I hope you find your perfect arrow.”
Pittis tells it much better than I can. All I can do is underline it, hoping that the above account does the teacher’s tale justice.
Every summer, we report on the local high school graduations. It’s a defining moment in everyone’s life, this casting off of the past and bold venturing into uncertain new horizons. Grown-ups share their wisdom, while young people are completely in the moment, getting a sense of what’s next.
In an era when so many new graduates, globally, face uncertainty over their economic future, Pittis’ words have particular meaning. There is no time-serving in this new world we live in, in which technology replaces the productivity of people at an ever-increasing rate. Every grad will need to craft that better arrow, deal with the unexpected, and face difficulties with honesty as well as grace. That’s my hope and my prediction for the next generation.