Throughout his career in education, David Kelly never shied away from a challenge. While receiving an ALS diagnosis was not a challenge he ever expected to face, he continues to do whatever it takes to live his best life.
David joined the faculty at Pembroke Academy team in Pembroke, New Hampshire in 1984, teaching every core science discipline from biology to physics. As technology progressed, he also took on the role of “computer guy,” integrating online studies into the curriculum for the school. In 1996, David was approached by a student inquiring about robotics. Although he was unfamiliar with the subject, David jumped right in, quickly finding a grant which would allow the school to enter a robotics competition. What started as an extracurricular club twenty plus years ago has grown into a thriving school program where David’s students have had the opportunity to compete at national and international levels. David retired in 2017.
Recognized by his peers for his character and leadership qualities, David was inducted into the Pembroke Academy Wall of Fame in June of this year. During the induction ceremony, he delivered an inspiring speech answering the academy’s essential question, “How should I live my life?”. David is graciously allowing us to share his thoughts with the ALS community.
“How should I live my life?
This is the question I'm supposed to be helping you with. Sadly, I don't have an answer to this question, only you can answer this question for your life, but I do have five points which may help you.
Point one, be pleasant and kind. Some time ago, I came across a little trick that helped me with this. I want to share it with you. The trick is the use of six words. These words are, “Thank you for your kind words.”
Let's see how these work. Now, everyone here picture in your mind that you just got a new haircut. Someone comes up to you and says, "Wow, what a nice-looking haircut." Now, what you're not going to say is, "I not only got one hair cut, I got them all cut." Instead, you want to say, "Thank you for your kind words." How much more pleasant and kind is that? I truly hope that someone's going to say something nice to you in the next couple of days and you'll be able to use these words.
Point two, attitude. Okay, with this point, I'm going to ask you to use your inner voice. Tell your inner voice right now to say, "Tonight I'm going to have a great night." Now, you may have failed miserably at this, and trust me, since developing ALS, I certainly failed at having a positive attitude many times. But start each day with a positive attitude. If anything goes bad and you fail, try again. Failure and making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn, however, you cannot give up. You have to try again. You can learn to have a good attitude. Life is far too short to go through it spending most of your time with a bad attitude.
Point three. Any of the students that had me as a teacher know I firmly believe in learning through doing. So, for point three, everyone is going to help me by participating. No, I'm not going to make you build a robot, although that would be cool. I'm going to count to three, and after the three count, everyone is going to raise their hand up above their head and then put them back down. Again, I'm going to give you a three count and you're going to raise your hand above your head and then put them back down. Ready? One, two, three.
You may have guessed it, point three is moving, whether you call it exercise, playing, or in my case, they call it physical therapy. Moving is going to make you feel good. It really doesn't matter what kind of movement you do, just as long as you're moving. This helps your body make a connection with your mind and just makes life more enjoyable.
Point four. This is another set of words for you, you need to use frequently. These are: who, why, what, when, where and how. These six words will help you develop a lifelong love of learning. Be creative and curious and love the learning of new things because it really does make life worthwhile.
Point five, family. Now, let me define family for you. A person is a member of your family if they have your back, they stick with you through good times and the bad times, they accept you for who you are and they do things for you without expecting anything in return. In case you haven't figured this out, this is called unconditional love. I never realized until I developed ALS what a large and wonderful family I have.
For our last audience participation, I'm going to count to three, and after the three count, you're going to be silent for 30 seconds. During these 30 seconds of silence, I want to think about and be thankful for the people in your family. Are you ready? 1, 2, 3. To the staff, faculty, administration, to graduates and your family, in the next couple of days, give the members of your family a big hug. They truly are what makes life worth living.
Well, that finishes up my five points to help you answer the question, “how should I live my life?”, but I do have homework for you. Sometime in the next week, go on YouTube and search for “Be Humble and Kind”. It's a Tim McGraw song. The words of this song will fill in any of the things that I may have missed. I want to give a big shout out to Robbie Shaw who represented Pembroke Academy Robotics Team 134 at the VEX World Championship this year. This makes the 22nd PA team to compete in the world championship in the past nine years. I also want to thank the Pembroke Academy community for this wonderful honor of being inducted into the Pembroke Academy Wall of Fame. This is all I have here now. Be safe, be happy and be healthy.”
Special thanks to The Kelly family and the team at The ALS Association Northern New England Chapter for allowing us to share David’s inspiring story. To read more about people impacted by ALS, follow our blog: als.org/blog