This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
My objective in speaking here today is not to give advice to the under-classmen or to celebrate this graduation with the seniors as some escape from the system that has defined the last four years of our malleable lives. And what could I possibly say to enlighten, or at least entertain, those of you who have already walked down the elevated runway in the small gymnasium of life? Well, fortunately, I haven’t shouldered the responsibility of explaining the secrets of the universe. So you may put down your pencils, you needn’t take notes. I merely hope to divulge some of my personal beliefs that have changed and developed over these last four years of high school. My validation for giving such a speech is based on one of the things that I believe most strongly; that every individual has something to contribute. I am convinced that each of us has something to teach; each of us has story worth telling. Each person brings to a situation a different background and thus a unique point of view. These discrepancies can frighten people and drive peoples and nations apart but it is these same differences that generate solutions to problems both trivial and universal. Nelson Mandela elaborated on this concept in his address, Circle of Quiet. “…our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measures. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world.” With this stage of formal education complete we ask ourselves, what now? what next? And whatever the answer may be when we move on we will find a new series of problems desperately seeking new solutions. These problems will not be solved by timidity. Nelson Mandela reminds each of us that what we have to contribute is worthwhile. It is our responsibility to act fearlessly and confront courageously the issues that face our generation. The power of the individual goes beyond differentiated experiences. We have the ability to mold our futures and perhaps even more easily shape our present conditions. The external forces that seem to define how we should act and feel are relatively inconsequential compared to the inner decisions that we have the opportunity to make. A physical location or vocation has little power to change your mental state unless you allow it to do so. Wherever we go and whatever we do in these next several years we have Mandela’s assurance that we are more than qualified to live in those situations. A sense of home, purpose, or belonging comes from what we bring to a place rather than what was there when we arrived. Whether the members of our class go on to join the circus, a noble profession, mind you, or head off to college with plans to collect post graduate degrees like they’re trading cards, are matters of little importance. Though it may be more financially viable to pursue a career that doesn’t deal with unicycles, there are millions of people who work these types of jobs and their past experiences can be as valuable as those of corporate executive
officers who waved an early goodbye to the harsh beauty of the world that most people live. And so our lives diverge, we spread ourselves out over the country to find adventures and move on to new experiences. In these places we will develop a new sense of peace and perhaps find some causes to be passionate about. As we contribute to these causes, let’s remember, our light—our successes, progression, and accomplishments—is not something to be feared. Regardless of our experiences and situations now, next year, or ten years from now, we will always be individuals with worthwhile contributions. The only failure is not taking the risk to serve. Thank you.” I fumbled with the pile of papers that I had effectively scattered across the podium during the speech and tried to close the manila folder that was supposed to contain them. The speeches squirmed free and my trembling hands did little to calm those proud pages. I looked over at my more competent counterpart for the ceremony and she laughed a quiet and gracious laugh, signaling me to leave them. Together we walked down off the stage, our robes sweeping the floor of the small gymnasium. I walked bashfully back to my seat receiving a noiseless high five and a few of the ever popular fist-pounds as remarks of silent congratulations.