A Letter to a High School Graduate 2013

Written by Tony Mussari
Edited by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. Booker T. Washington


Several events got me thinking about life, love, learning and the bumps we encounter on the road of life:

An invitation to the 50th anniversary celebration of my college graduationJD_7240 and a delightful visit with Jen Davis, a former student, who returned for her 20th class reunion;

A telephone conversation I had with one of my college classmates, Pat Mulloy;

Pat was one of the brightest and hardest working students in our class. Pat spent a lifetime in the state department and on Capitol Hill. At one point in his life, he was an Assistant Secretary of Commerce.

A visit with John Sullivan; John was a pathfinding high school principal. He founded the Empire State Supervisor and Administrators Association. John and I were friends in college, and we have been reunited in ways of the heart and soul.

A freak accident that resulted in a broken bone in the lumbar region of Tom Mazur’s back. Tom is the Director of Arts in the North Plainfield School District in New Jersey. He literally put our “Gettysburg Family” together.


An invitation to a high school graduation party at the home of our friend Dr. Mollie Marti in Iowa;

Mollie was very kind to us during our Face of America Journey. Mollie’s first born, Nate, is a member of the class of 2013. Unfortunately, we could not attend the party.

The announcement of the June 7th graduation ceremony at our local high school;  Olivia Sod, one of the members of that class, had her senior picture taken in our garden.  Her father was one of my former students.

Both Pat and John were very interested in the work Kitch and I have been doing in Gettysburg.

The visits and the telephone call caused me to think about some of the things we learned during the production of our documentary, Walking into the Light at Gettysburg.

The bottom line here is simple. Life is full of surprises some pleasant, others not. As we get older, we realize that everything we experience in life is just another opportunity to learn and grow Studentsaaa-DKand lincolnb_9443 in ways that will make us and our world a better place.

Teaching students how to be resilient was the primary intent of our Gettysburg Project which involved students and teachers in the North Plainfield School District.

To close the circle on this project, I decided to spend some time thinking about the most important lessons I learned about life and its unexpected twists and turns from two of the main characters in Walking into the Light at Gettysburg.

The way I see it, this will be a unique and lasting gift to Nate, Olivia and the students from North Plainfield who are featured in the documentary.  

I hope it has special meaning for David Havrilla a member of our “Gettysburg Family.” On June 20th he will graduate from North Plainfield High School.

David Havrilla

I hope what is written in this letter will resonate with these students, not just today, but at various times during their lives when they are challenged by the bumps in the road they will encounter.

The authors of these words of wisdom were challenged in ways we cannot fully appreciate during the most difficult time in our history. Today, Abraham Lincoln is considered by many to be our greatest president. Robert E. Lee is legendary in all things military and educational.

In my opinion, the word that best describes Lincoln is magnanimity.  Lee is remembered for his commitment to reconciliation after the Civil War and the code for gentlemen he established as a college president.

To celebrate graduation 2013, I would like to share a few of their inspirational and life-transforming thoughts.

I wish someone had shared these thoughts with me when I was a teenager.

Life Lessons

1. Be honest with yourself and others

Live your life in a way that will inspire someone to write or say theseLincoln_250 words of
Abraham Lincoln about you:

In very truth he was the noblest work of God – an honest man.

2. Be Candid and Courageous

Robert E. Lee said two very important things about living a successful life. They are easy to read, but very difficult to practice:

You must study to be frank with the world: frankness is the child of honesty and courage.

Say just what you mean to do on every occasion, and take it for granted that you mean to do right.

3. Cultivate Friendships

Abraham Lincoln was very aware of the importance of friends.

The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships…If we have no friends, we
have no pleasure. Abraham Lincoln

Robert E. Lee added an important and life-saving caution.

Never do a wrong thing to make a friend or keep one. Robert E. Lee

4. Always Be Kind

If you follow the advice of Lincoln and Lee, you will scatter kindness wherever you go.

It is an old and a true maxim that a drop of honey catches more flies than gallon of gall. Abraham LincolnRE Lee_250

Treat all people in a simple, unpretentious manner. Robert E. Lee

5. Don’t Be Afraid of Success or Failure

Too often, fear of failure prevents people from doing things that will help them develop and grow.  Lincoln and Lee put failure in perspective with these words.

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. Abraham Lincoln

We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing.  Robert E. Lee

6. Do Your Very Best

The pursuit of excellence was central to everything Lincoln and Lee did in their in
lifetime.  They used these words to encourage people to reach up for the highest
edition of themselves.

Every man is proud of what he does well; and no man is proud of what he does not do
well.  With the former, his heart is in his work; and he will do twice as much of it with
less fatigue. The latter performs a little imperfectly, looks at it in disgust, turns from it,
and imagines himself exceedingly tired. The little he has done, comes to nothing
for want of finishing.  Abraham Lincoln

The education of a man is never completed until he dies. Robert E. Lee

7.  Be Magnanimous

There was nothing petty, resentful or vindictive about Abraham Lincoln. HeA Lincoln-200 was generous, forgiving and high-minded to friends and critics alike.

May the Almighty grant that the cause of truth, justice, and humanity, shall in no wise suffer at my hands… Abraham Lincoln

My trust is in the mercy and wisdom of a kind Providence, who ordereth all things for our good. Robert E. Lee

I can only say that I have acted upon my best convictions without selfishness or malice, and that by the help of God, I shall continue to do so. Abraham Lincoln

The gentleman… cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past.  Robert E. Lee

8. Be Disciplined… Control Your Impulses

In a world of constant distractions, we would be well advised to pay attention to the advice offered by Lincoln and Lee.

I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.  Robert E. Lee

Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself, can spare time for personal contention. Still less can he afford to take all the consequences, including the vitiating of his temper, and the loss of self-control.  Abraham Lincoln

9. Be Flexible

Everyone makes mistakes. The wise person admits the mistake and learns fromA Lincoln_B it.

I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. Abraham Lincoln

10. Be Grateful

Abraham Lincoln was a gratitude person long before that term became fashionable. In this quotation, he tells us that gratitude to family, country and posterity is a requirement not an option.

This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

What are the qualities Lincoln admired in others?

I am not a Lincoln Scholar. I am an unabashed student of all things Lincoln.  On my good days I try to model his attitude and behavior whenever I encounter problems. On my bad days, I remind myself of the healing and hopeful lessons that constitute his legacy.

From what I have read about Abraham Lincoln, the boy, the man and the president, these are some of the things he admired in the people he knew, liked and trusted:

1. Sober and steady judgment;

2. Level headedness;

3. Absence of fear; IMG_9329_250

4. Inner strength;

5. Loyalty;

6. Kindness;

7. Compassion;

8. Gratitude;

9. Duty/responsibility;

10. Humility;

11. Dependability;

12. Perseverance.

In every instance, these are characteristics one finds in Abraham Lincoln. There are others, but if you build the foundation of your private and public life on these you will be able to deal with whatever life gives you. You will be humble in the endorphin-filled moments of accomplishment, and you will be magnanimous in the lonesome moments of failure.

A Lee Never 1 15 13 23

As you make your way through life, no one can guarantee you success and freedom from pain.  In fact, I recently heard a very wise man, Congressman John Dingell, say, “Getting hurt is an important part of the learning process.”

The wisdom of Lincoln and Lee will help you realize what Samuel Johnson called “the supreme end of education- the power to tell the good from the bad, the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the genuine to the bad and the counterfeit.”

To every teacher, administrator, aide, bus driver, member of the support staff, school board member, parent and grandparent who helped make this day happen for the graduating seniors all over America, we express our congratulations and gratitude for a job well done.

To the students who walked on the stage to accept their diplomas, we salute you as the hope and promise of America’s tomorrow.

Kitch and I pray that Providence will bless you with good health and good fortune all the days of your life.


Kitch & Tony Mussari

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