June 04, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

It is one of the most important choices we ever make and it is one made daily.

The attitude we select ultimately determines our life path, according to Harper School District Superintendent Dennis Savage.

Savage gave the keynote address Tuesday at the Union-Baker Education Service District's high school diploma graduation and GED recognition ceremony.

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life," Savage said. "Attitude is more important than facts, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do,'' Savage said.

The educator stressed that people choose their attitudes.

"The most remarkable thing in this world is that we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace,'' Savage said.

"We must use the one valuable gift we have all been given, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is about 10 percent what has happened to me and 90 percent of how I react to it.''

Savage said the graduates should not be deterred by the negative statements people sometimes make about young people. To make his point he read a statement by a well-known philosopher:

"The children of today are too much in love with luxury. They have horrible manners, flaunt authority and have no respect for their elders. ... I can only fear what awful creatures they will become when they grow up.''

Savage said the statement was made by the Greek philosopher Socrates in 399 B.C.

Savage spoke to an audience of 140 graduates and many other family members and well-wishers at the Blue Mountain Conference Center. The graduates were among about 275 students who earned their high school diploma or GED through the Union-Baker ESD this school year. The ESD has alternative school sites in Union, Wallowa, Baker, Malheur, Grant, Umatilla and Wasco counties.

Some of this year's ESD graduates are students who left and then returned to school.

Savage assured the students that the time they invested in finishing school will yield dividends.

He told the story of a wood cutter who was asked to cut more trees but each day he cut less despite working harder. The wood cutter thought he was losing his strength and went to his boss to apologize.

"When was the last time you sharpened your ax?'' the boss asked.

"Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my ax. I have been very busy trying to cut trees,'' the wood cutter said.

Savage told the graduates that by going back to school and earning their diplomas or GEDs that they have sharpened their axes.

"You will now have many more options ahead of you than before."

The graduates can do almost anything they want to, he said.

"You are capable of doing whatever you want to do in life from this time forward. Anyone who tells you different is wrong. Before you graduated, they were right — you did have restrictions. Those restrictions are gone. ... You now have the tools you need."

Savage is completing his second year as superintendent of the Harper School District in Southeast Oregon. He was a teacher and administrator in the Nyssa School District for 30 years.