Chapel Talk: Will it be worth it? by Mark Gartner '84

Math teacher and Peddie alumnus Mark Gartner '84 has been giving a version of this speech for many years. It is both a personal reflection and a bit of very relevant advice given to students at the beginning of the academic year.

Here is the outline of today’s talk.  I’m going to tell a quick story, then I’m going to read you a short story about blowing up the world, and finally, I hope to pull it all together at the end.  Everyone got it?  Quick story, blow up the world, pull it all together.  Here we go.

Good morning.  My name is Mr. Gartner, and I’m an addict.  Not the kind of person who is addicted to texting or to Thursday morning muffins from the dining hall or even to Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook.  I’m an actual addict.  The pain killer, Demerol, was my drug of choice.

Later this fall will be my 29th anniversary of being clean.  Some of you may be trying to guess my age so you can do the math, so I’ll save you the trouble.  It was the fall term of my senior year here at Peddie.  I had, and still have, a bad back for which I was taking Demerol.  One pill a day quickly turned into 4 or 5 pills each day, and this lasted throughout the fall term.  Several years after I quit, I realized my short term memory was thoroughly and negatively impacted by my misuse of this drug, and my memory is still really bad to this day.

For those of you who know me, you know I remember things…poorly.  If you ask me to do something like write you a college recommendation, for example, I will say, “You better send me an email because I’m not going to remember this conversation.”  For the most part, I’m OK with having a bad memory…except when it comes to my family, my friends,…and all of you.  There are pictures in my house, pictures which I took with a camera, and I don’t remember taking them.  Our family has been on vacation to the Grand Canyon—Mrs. Gartner reminds me I had a nice time.  What hurts, if  I let it, is seeing old pictures of my two sons and having no memory of them at that age.

There is an “up” side to have a poor memory, too!  I don’t hold grudges because I forget why I was mad, and I’m totally fine visiting places I’ve been before.  It’s not like I remember being there!

If I had to do it all over again, I would choose to NOT be an addict.  It wasn’t worth it.  It wasn’t worth it.

Now let’s talk about blowing up the world.  To do this, I’m going to read an edited short story called “The Man from When” from the book, “World’s Greatest Science Fiction, 1967”, and it goes like this—

Mr. Smith had finished his day and was about to enjoy a large glass of iced tea when a thunderous explosion quaked through his house upsetting his glass.  After applying a steadying hand to the pitcher of tea, he sprinted outside.  An incandescent glare a hundred yards from the house destroyed the purple sunset he had been admiring not five minutes earlier.  “OMG!” he said (and then texted, tweeted, and changed his Facebook status), and ran back inside to hide.

As Smith was inside gathering his wits, he was further alarmed by a steadily gushing hiss from beyond his open front door.  When the sound persisted for a full minute, he went cautiously to the porch to find an intense mist rising from the area of the fiery thing he had viewed moments earlier.  Somewhat awed, and thoroughly scared, he watched and waited for about 5 minutes.  Just as he was about to go back inside, a man walked out of the mist and said, “Good evening.”
“Good evening,” said Mr. Smith.  “Are you the police?”
“Oh no,” answered the stranger.  “I’m from that,” he said, pointing a finger into the mist.  “My cooling equipment finally kicked into high.”
“You’re a spaceman,” Smith decided.
“I only came a few hundred miles,” shrugged the stranger modestly.  “Mostly, I’m a time traveler.  The one and ONLY time traveler,” he added with a touch of pride in his voice.
“The real Captain Kirk, eh?  Well come on in and have some tea.  Are you from the past or future?” wondered Smith.
“From the future,” replied the time traveler.
“Well,” said Smith, sitting down and making himself comfortable, “I guess you’ll want to tell me all about it.”
The time traveler said, “I had my final calculations with usual plus or minus…and of course it was the minus that had me a little worried.”
“But you took the chance,” interjected Smith.
“Naturally.  And as it happened, there WAS some minus.  Just enough to destroy the world."
“That is too bad,” Smith commented.
“Yes.  You see, there was such an expenditure of energy that it completely wiped out the Earth of my time.  The force blasted me all the way through space to this spot.  By the way, I AM sorry if I disturbed you this evening.”
“It was nothing, nothing at all.  Forget it.”
“Well, in any event, I took the chance and I’m not sorry.  A calculated risk, but I proved my point.  In spite of everything, I still think it was worth it.  What do you think?
Smith commented, “As you said, you took the chance; you proved your point.  I suppose it was worth it.  By the way, how far from the future did you travel?”
The time traveler consulted his phone.  “Eighteen minutes,” he replied.
“It wasn’t worth it,” said Smith.

It wasn’t worth it.  I’m sensing a theme here…

Eighteen minutes.  He proved his point to accomplish time travel, but at the cost of the world.  How many times have we all gotten in trouble only to say, “It wasn’t worth it.” after getting caught?  How about this for an idea?  Before you get in trouble and find yourself in the Dean’s Office, the police station, or the morgue, ask yourself, “Will it be worth it?” before making that potentially bad decision.

Will it be worth it to skip math class in order to finish your history paper which is due later in the day?  Maybe, although it may depend on what you are missing during math class.

Will it be worth it to be mean to someone over email or gchat…or whatever you kids use to talk to each other these days?  Will it be worth it to ever say anything mean to someone else?

I’d like to think Tiger Woods would have made different decisions if he had asked himself, “Will it be worth it if I cheat on my wife?”

At Convocation, Mr. Green challenged all of us to be good citizens.  To be a good citizen, you need to, among other things, make good decisions and, as important, help your friends to make good decisions.  Our first open weekend is tomorrow.  Make good decisions, look out for one another, and remember to ask yourself, “Will it be worth it?”  Will it be worth it.

Let’s have a great year.  Ala Viva, Peddie.


  1. I just read it : marvellous !!
    A bit "je m'en foutiste" as we say in french !!!


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