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Speech to the National Junoir Honor Society
by Jeffrey B. Allen   
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Last edited: Thursday, October 08, 2009
Posted: Thursday, October 08, 2009

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The relationship between achievement and selflessness

The National Junior Honor Society Induction Ceremony

October 14th 2009


Jeffrey B. Allen



  • My objective for the talk to the National Junior Honor Society.
  • To speak about achievement and its relationship to selflessness.
  • The ideas, connotations, definitions and the general perception of achievement, in our country, has become clouded.
  • We think of achievement in terms of what others, whom we are led to believe we should            admire, have achieved.
  • Is fame achievement?
  • Is the accumulation of wealth achievement?
  • Is being on television achievement?
  • Is being Labron James or Tiger woods, or OprahWinfrey a gauge for what achievement is? How about Michael Vick – he killed dogs and went to jail for it, but now he is an NFL         Quarterback, or how about Al Capone, he is still the number one gangster of all time, according the latest poll. Or maybe Osama Bin Laden, I hope we all know who he is. Yes, believe it or not, in many parts of the world he is thought of as a very high achiever.
  • Fame, wealth, notoriety ...
  • Is that what achievement has come to stand for?
  • My talk will center on a battle we must all wage. The battle against selfishness.



What is it?

Is fame achievement?

Is the accumulation of wealth achievement?

Is being on television achievement?

Is writing a book achievement? Or do I have to be like Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Is being Labron James or Tiger Woods, or Oprah Winfrey a gauge for what achievement is? How about Michael Vick – he killed dogs and went to jail for it. But now he is an NFL Quarterback, or how about Al Capone, he is still the number one gangster of all time. Books and movies have glorified his life of crime. Or consider Osama Bin Laden, I hope we all know who he is. Yes, believe it or not, in many parts of the world, he is thought of as a very high achiever.  After all, he destroyed two of the tallest buildings in the world.

Fame, wealth, notoriety …

Is that what achievement has come to stand for?

I am going to tell you a story about a little boy; a six year old boy who lived with his family near a majestic lake in upper-state New Jersey.

One day the boy’s mother gave him some change so he could walk to the store, on the other side of the lake, and buy a couple of loaves of bread.  The little boy’s Mom knew of the many distractions that were to be found along the way, and she knew how her boy needed a stern reminder that he must go directly to the store, buy the bread, and be back before dinnertime. There’s to be no stopping along the way to catch turtles or bullfrogs.

“Do you understand, young man,” she said, shaking her finger.

The little boy set out down the hill and walked along the road that rounded the west side of the lake. Soon, he crossed over the bridge where he frequently fished with his best friend. He was tempted to stop and look underneath it for turtles and frogs, but he remembered what his mother had told him before he left the house … so he kept on going and finally he reached the store.

When he went inside, he walked by a display case. Inside the case was a little black camera. He had looked at it before. He thought about his friend who had a camera just like it.  The boy stared at the camera for a long time until the clerk came over and asked if he needed some help.

“You’re eyeing up that camera, I see,” said the clerk.

The boy didn’t say anything at first, but soon he asked, “How much is it?”

After the clerk told him, he politely said thank you and proceeded to go over to the racks where all the bread was kept.  While there, he pulled the change from his pocket and counted it. The little camera was the same price as 2 loaves of bread.

He reached for the bread, but something stopped him.

The boy turned and walked back to the display case.  The clerk was close by. He had seen the boy go to the bread racks.

“I would like to buy that camera,” said the boy, while again staring into the display case.

The clerk removed the camera from the case and handed it to the boy.

The boy pulled the money from his pocket.

“Will that be all,” asked the man, while looking over at the bread racks.  He thought his question would be a reminder of the bread that the boy also seemed interested in buying.

The little boy nodded his head, “yes, that’s all”. Then he handed the money to the clerk and left the store.

When the boy got home his mother asked him where the bread was. The boy tried to make some feeble excuses as to why he had come home without the bread, but the mother was wise.

Soon the boy revealed the camera.

The boy’s mother was furious. She took the camera away and sent the boy directly to his room, all the while telling him, in no uncertain terms, “You wait until your father gets home.  He’ll have something to say about this. Now go to your room and stay there until you’re told to come out!” she yelled.

When the father came home, the boy was called to the kitchen where dinner was on the table. His mother stood at the sink with a scowl on her face.  The boy’s father was already seated. Steaming hot plates of food had been placed where they normally would be. 

The dad motioned for the boy to be seated.

As the boy sat down, the father put the camera he had been holding on his lap onto the center of the table.

A lump formed in the boy’s throat.

As the family ate their dinner the boy stared at the camera. Not a word was spoken.

Finally, the father said. “There is nothing like a nice slice of bread with soup, my dear.”

“Well, there isn’t any bread today,” said the mother, casting a piercing glance at her son.

The boy suddenly could not swallow.  Tears were welling up in his eyes.

The father sighed and looked at his little boy sadly.

In a soft voice the father said to the boy. “You may keep the camera, son.”

The boy wept, but the mother and father would not pay any attention.

Instead, the father quietly told the boy to take the camera and go to his room.

Not another word was ever said about it.

That little boy was me. To this day I still have the camera. I keep it on a display shelf where I see it everyday.

My father didn’t need to yell at me, or punish me, or spank me.  He knew my punishment would be to keep the camera as a reminder of what I had done wrong, so every time I used the camera, or even looked at it, it would be a symbol of how selfish I had been on that day.

Selfishness; a hard lesson in my life is embodied in that little plastic camera.

It is my reminder of how I thought only of myself.

When we take a close look at those we idolize, when we hang posters on our bedroom walls, when we think about being rich and famous, what are we really doing?  Are we thinking only about ourselves?  Are we thinking about what it will be like when we become rich or famous? Are we imagining ourselves as a rock star or a movie star?

Are we using the right mentors, the right people to look up to and emulate?  Has television, computers and advertising, and even the news media formed our opinions for us? Have music idols, video games and movies influenced us so we have a perception of thinking for ourselves, but are we?

Are you sure that what you think of as important is really important?  Or have you been told so many times, over and over again, by television and computers, to think it’s important. To think of something, someone, or an idea, a religion, a philosophy, another country, a form of government, or a foreign people as good or bad, right or wrong, is your decision, an important decision, and one that you should make, in all cases, through your own knowledge and personal experience.

Today you are being inducted into the National Junior Honor Society.  It is a great achievement. There is no doubt about that. And you, your parents, and your teachers should be congratulated.  But it isn’t the achievements in your life that matter as much as what you do with them.

Not too long ago, before computers, before airplanes and before cars – that’s right - it was only a little over a hundred years ago - not long in the scheme of things. Prior to the modern age of the technological miracles we all take for granted, people grew up, worked, married, had their families, children and grandchildren, and died within 25 miles of where they were born. They spent there lives in the same community and they knew just about everyone who lived there.  They went to the same school as there mom and dad and maybe even their grandmother and grandfather.

Today, you all face the biggest challenge ever handed to a new generation. Think about what has become of our society.  We all want to win the lottery and get rich quick.  We want that new X box that just came out.  We can travel to Orlando, Florida, to visit Disney World in just under two hours, where a little over one hundred years ago it would have taken a month or more. We want the new car and the big house. 

But because of our selfishness, as a society, our country faces 10 percent unemployment, people are loosing their houses because they were greedy and so were their money lenders. And giant auto manufacturing companies, once bigger than most nations on Earth, are declaring bankruptcy.  Our nation is borrowing money to pay its bills. 

I bought that little camera with coins my mother gave me.  Today we would probably buy something like that with a credit card.  Buy now, pay later.  Not a good philosophy, and one which all of you will begin to deal with very soon.

I hope you will achieve great things. I wish all of you tremendous success.  Become a famous movie star, become a successful business person, become the best you can be at everything you do.

Achievement!  Go out there and make yourselves and your parents proud of your accomplishments.

But remember the little camera.  Remember that every time we do something where we think only of ourselves we are wasting those hard earned achievements.  The dedication and hard work you poured into meeting your goals was for the glory of you alone.

My generation has the wonderful distinction of being coined the “Me generation”.  Not anything to be proud of.

Today, more than anytime in recent history, your country needs you, your community needs you, and your family needs you.

President John F Kennedy said in his inauguration speech in 1960, in fact it was right around the time I bought the little camera instead of the bread.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”

I would modernize that statement and say,

Ask not what you can do for yourself but ask what you can do for others.


I want to thank the National Junior Honor Society for inviting me to Milford Middle School. I also wish to congratulate those who will be achieving membership tonight. 

There is nothing easy about being accepted into an honorary society.  It requires hard work, a dedication to excellence, and self-discipline.  


And congratulations to the parents.

I would be remiss if I did not also recognize those individuals who work to make the National Junior Honor Society a viable and thriving organization, as well as one that is conducive to achievement.

So, going back to my original question.  What is achievement?

Well, you may run to your computer and Google achievement and check out Wikopdia’s definition.

I did it for you.

Achievement is the final accomplishment of something noteworthy, after much effort and often in spite of obstacles and discouragements: 

But what’s wrong with that definition?

All of you who have gained induction into the National Junior Honor society have achieved a milestone in your education.  Tonight, your parents, your teachers, friends and family members, have come together to share this moment with you. You sit here, I hope, very proud of your accomplishment, and rightfully so.

But the meaning our predecessors have given to achievement must change.  Our sense of why we achieve, what we achieve, and who we achieve our milestones for, must change -- or we, as a people and a nation, will continue to revisit economic recessions. The gap between the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the caring and the non- caring, will continue to grow at a dangerous pace.

So tonight I would like to submit a change to the meaning of achievement.

I would like it to read like this:

Achievement is the reaching of a goal. The accomplishment of which is done through high moral and ethical standards by which we set an example for others.

Take that definition with you tonight and you will be successful. And don’t forget about the little black camera.  I never have.

Thank you, and again - congratulations to all.




Web Site: Jeffrey B. Allen Author

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