David Sobel's Speech

Photos contributed by David Sobel

Student Council President 50th Reunion Speech

Taylor Allderdice High School Class of 66

September 17, 2016


From Last Regrets to Life Lessons

 David S. Sobel



What happens to people's minds at reunion speeches? A “study” suggests:

1/3- pay strict attention. Some may even have maintained such good study habits that you still want to take notes!

1/3 – Fade in and out. Can’t we hurry up with the talking and start dancing. You might be thinking “Did I vote for this guy for Student Council President? Can I take my vote back?” It wouldn’t matter since Harold Harris voted for me hundreds of times and he can’t take his votes back.

1/3—Engaged in intense sexual fantasies. Reassuring – at least 1/3 are going to have a good time at the reunion.


For the other 2/3rds, I want to talk for a moment about death. I know this doesn’t sound appropriate for a reunion celebration, but we have all lost some of our classmates and friends—some rather recently. And it is that time in our lives that we might benefit by considering what we can still learn from our dying or dead classmates that could enrich our lives.


What might our classmates who have passed advise us about living?

Since I cannot directly ask our classmates at this point, I did some quick research and found some helpful advice by looking at the most common regrets that people who are dying have. I’d like to share a few (I had 66 but narrowed it to just 6 regrets!):


#1: I wish I wouldn’t have compared myself to others. Story: I walked into my 25th medical school reunion and did not recngize anyone. But, I thought I looked a lot better than my classmates and that did make me feel good. However, I then discovered that I walked into the wrong reunion room- this was the class of 10 years ahead of mine! Then I felt bad. Careful of comparing yourself to others.


#2: I wish I had expressed my feelings more—including when I was sad, insecure, and feeling vulnerable. I wish I had forgiven others more. “Resentment is like swallowing poison, and expecting the person you hate to die.”


#3: I wish I had made more time for my friends and family. It’s not just the amount of time, it’s about showing up and being present. I observed a couple in a restaurant celebrating a birthday. Through the entire meal, she was on her cellphone and he was on his cellphone. Unless they were sexting each other, they were not really present at the celebration.


#4: I wish I had focused everyday on making others happier and remembering “It’s not all about me.” BTW: making others happier often has the delightful side effect of making us happier.


#5: I wish that I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Not follow someone else’s map for your life (including any advice I may be giving you right now!).


#6: I wish I had let the people around me know how much I love and appreciate them and how grateful I am that they are in my life. Tell them often, with sincerity, while they still can hear it.


Bottomline: What might our classmates who have passed advise us about living?

Savor each day, each moment, each friendship as a gift. And keep dancing or whatever the other 1/3 is doing. Enjoy the Reunion.


Some resources:


I'd Pick More Daisies -Don Herold (from 1953) extract. This poem is often misattributed to Borges and Nadine Stair.

If I had my life to live over, I would try to make more mistakes. 

I would relax. 

I would be sillier than I have been this trip. 

I know of very few things that I would take seriously. 

I would be less hygienic. 

I would go more places. 

I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. 

I would eat more ice cream and less bran.

I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary troubles.

You see, I have been one of those fellows who live prudently and sanely, hour after hour, day after day.  Oh, I have had my moments.  But if I had it to do over again, I would have more of them - a lot more.  I never go anywhere without a thermometer, a gargle, a raincoat and a parachute.  If I had it to do over, I would travel lighter.


I would seek out more teachers who inspire relaxation and fun. 

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted a little earlier in the spring and stay that way a little later in the fall. 

I would play hooky more. 

I would shoot more paper wads at my teachers. 

I would have more dogs. 

I would keep later hours. 

I'd have more sweethearts.

I would fish more. 

I would go to more circuses. 

I would ride on more merry-go-rounds. 

I would go to more dances. 

A palliative nurse recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings into a book called “The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.” It’s not surprising to see what made the list as they are all things that touch each of our lives as we struggle to pay attention to and make time for things that we truly love. Below is the list of each regret along with an excerpt from the book. At the bottom is also a link to the book for anyone interested in checking it out.

One thing on regret before we get to the list. It’s important to remember that whatever stage we are at in life, there is no need for regret. The process of regret is one that provides nothing but suffering for ourselves as we begin to allow the past to dictate how we should feel now. Instead, we can use the past as a reference point to understand what adjustments we would like to make moving forward. The adjustments do not have to come out of pain, sorrow, regret or judgment, but simply a choice to do things in a different way. We are learning all the time, we can very quickly slow that learning process down by getting stuck in the idea of regret. When it comes to making changes, be at peace with the past and remember that each moment is a new choice.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

”This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”


The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing


These 20 Regrets From People On Their Deathbeds Will Change Your Life



You’re going to die someday. 

Perhaps the 5 most powerful words ever spoken to me. No matter how immortal we feel waltzing through life’s ups and downs, we all must someday stare death in its devious eyes as we reflect on our lives. Life is complex, sure. That’s a given. But if you really ponder for a moment, it can be boiled down to 2 feelings you’ll most likely be met with on your deathbed:

Triumph or regret.

Thankfully, every day is a great day to get better. Every day is a perfect day to change the track of your life, to reroute the potentially destructive path of a life wasted.

What better place to start than people in their final days:

1. I wish I wouldn’t have compared myself to others.

Everyone struggles with this, but there’s nearly nothing that’s so detrimental to fulfillment. Instead of comparing yourself to your friends, family, or idols, reflect on how far you’ve come as a person, even if it’s just the person you were yesterday.

2. I wish I’d taken action and dove in head first.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: there is no “right way.” So many people are paralyzed by the idea of what they want to be because they worry it won’t happen as quickly as they want. Well, it won’t. But what’s worse than dedicating time to your dream each day and seeing snail-like progress? A life wasted doing things you don’t want to.

3. I wish I’d tuned the world out more.

Everyone around you tries to dictate what you are or who you should be, but you let them. No one needs to validate your worth besides yourself, and you will someday deeply regret if you spend your life pleasing the world around you. Don’t worry about pleasing your parents, friends, or bosses. You need to worry about number 1 first and foremost. Always.

4. I wish I didn’t wait to “start it tomorrow.”

Excuses are plentiful because they’re so easy to make. You will always find reasons to validate your inaction, and this is a common cause of deathbed regret. The things you want to do tomorrow can effortlessly turn into things you wish you did 50 years ago.

5. I wish I’d taken more chances.

The fear of rejection or failure dissipates in the face of death. The pretty girl you didn’t ask out on a date, the job you didn’t apply for because you felt under qualified, or the business you believed in but didn’t start will weigh heavier on your shoulders than falling flat on your face and learning.

6. I wish I would have kept going.

Even if you are brave enough to take the chance, failure happens. Where this failure can turn into major regret, however, is a decision to quit. When you let the pressure of falling short overcome your love for your endeavor, you lost. Keep going.

7. I wish I’d told others how much I love them.

Everyone wants to feel appreciated, but very few are wiling to tell others how much they appreciate them. So often we are wrapped up in gaining love but fail to give it to the ones we care about most. Tell them often, before it’s too late.

8. I wish I was content with what I have.

Be it more money, more recognition, or more options, we always want more of something. Very few are able to take an honest step back and recognize that what they have is more than enough. It’s always good to want more from life, but it’s essential to truly appreciate what you have.

9. I wish I took better care of my body.

Today’s society tells us that “taking care of yourself” is synonymous with a chiseled six pack. This is by no means true. Making healthy choices is important in all facets of life, not just physical exercise. Not eating junk food, not smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and not drinking every weekend are 3 pretty easy ways to start.

10. I wish I’d listened to others more.

Everyone thinks they’re right all the time and everyone has opinions that they sometimes force on others. It’s alright to have them, but it’s more important to have the ability to listen. Even if you don’t agree with the point of view, challenge yourself to hear others without passing judgement.

11. I wish I’d have not held that grudge.

It’s discouraging when someone hurts you, especially if that person means a lot to you. But harboring grudges hurts you in the long term more than it did initially.

12. I wish I’d have traveled more.

People often mistake that “traveling” has to involve a foreign country and a couple thousand dollars. Phooey. Jump in the car, drive an hour to a nearby city, and explore something you haven’t before. Don’t jail yourself in your house because of erroneous notions of what it means to travel.

13. I wish I’d have laughed it off.

You take yourself far too seriously. Heck, we all do. One of the major regrets people have in life is simply taking life too seriously. Bad things are bound to happen, sure. But they’re pretty much always not as bad as we make them out to be in our head. And isn’t life way more fun if we’re chuckling along with it?

14. I wish I’d left work at work (for only 40 hours per week).

Humans are hard wired to work and provide for the ones they love. However, this often comes at the expense of our loved ones because we spend so much stinking time wrapping things up at the office or putting in a couple hours emailing on the weekends. Here’s a newsflash: your job is going to still be there and exist when you die, but it’ll be someone else in the seat neglecting their family instead. Don’t let that happen.

15. I wish I stayed in touch with friends.

It’s normal for people to fall out of touch, but often it’s a result of a “they didn’t call me so they don’t miss me” mentality. If you truly miss someone and are wondering how they’re doing, chances are the other party is feeling the same way. Be the first to call, write, or visit. You’ll be glad you did.

16. I wish I was more aware of the real world around me.

I don’t believe this is a huge concern for people currently on their deathbeds, but for the millennial generation this will be a huge regret. We’re constantly plugged in everywhere we go. This encourages us to unconsciously ignore the beauty that surrounds us every day. Unplug and look up. You’ll be more satisfied with what you find than whatever drama Shandra is starting on Facebook.

17. I wish I had more confidence in myself.

Everyone is self conscious, especially those who appear very cocky and sure of themselves. A big mistake people make in life is not truly believing in their own ability. It’s such a shame because it’s so easy. Only you need to validate your worth.

18. I wish I trusted my intuition.

That little voice in the back of your head is there for a reason. Sadly, for many of us that voice can be self defeating and quite harsh about life. There are, however, many other occasions where that voice is the megaphone for the heart, telling you what you truly desire and deeply want. Listen to it.

19. I wish I ran with a better crowd.

Choose to believe this or not, but you are a direct result of the people you surround yourself with. If you run with idiots, chances are high you will become one. The beauty of life is that we have the conscious choice on who we spend our time with and what we spend our time doing. I can’t speak for you, but I seek people who will always challenge, encourage, and push me grow.

20. I wish I walked the walk.

Far too many people are good at vocalizing the life they want, but are horrendous at putting a plan into action to get there. It’s not enough to dream out loud, or quietly in your head. You must absolutely need to put yourself out there and leap into action.

We can all relate to the struggles and battles that life brings, but that doesn’t mean we have to roll over and take it. It’s tough, sure, but anything that’s worthwhile is. It really comes down to a simple choice: struggle for fulfillment now or wish you did in your final moments alive.

Only you can decide.