24 years later….lessons from my high school graduation speech

I spent last evening digging through boxes of files that have been chaotically strewn around our basement storage room. After 3 recent home moves, there is no longer any semblance of organization to paperwork in my life. Tax files, bank statements, mortgage documents, school reports, legal docs….it’s all a mess. And for every important piece of paperwork, I also seem to randomly stash away a combination of product warranties, twenty year old phone bills and Bed Bath & Beyond discount coupons.

The goal of the scavenger hunt was to locate every family member’s birth certificate. As an added bonus to the game, the storage room is also where the cat’s litter box resides.

An hour into my search, I stumbled upon some relics of my childhood that my mother packaged up years ago and sent my way. For instance, here is the plaque I was awarded at a 1985 science fair from the American Chemical Society as a ‘Master Winner’. Not sure what a ‘Master Winner’ is, but it sounds awesome which means I was awesome. I believe the experiment was related to the impact of pH levels on water plants. Pro tip – they are easy to kill with or without a beaker full of acid.

ACS Award.jpg
You like that, don’t you?

I also found the original dot matrix print-out of the speech I gave at my 1993 high school commencement. 4 brittle, yellowed sheets of paper providing an insight into the mind and times of an 18 year old me.

I won’t bore you with the complete speech. It’s long and a bit pathetic (that’s what she….never mind). After delivering the required platitudes, I offered three specific points of advice taken directly from a commencement address given at McGill University by Charles Krauthammer. When observed through the lens of 2017 it’s clear that the old adage is true……the more things change, the more they truly do stay the same. And apparently plagiarism was just fine then.

Never Lose Your Head – Krauthammer encouraged us to avoid being absorbed by the periodic and alarming regularity with which much of our nation is immersed in a hysteria de jour. That day, I specifically referenced the the fear of communism, the terror of complete nuclear annihilation, and panic surrounding a pending ecological doomsday. I think in 1993 it was probably acid rain pouring down from Canada. Remember acid rain? Of course caring for the environment remains critical and, to be clear, global warming isn’t a hoax. With North Korea (and I guess….uhm….us) sabre-rattling, not even Dennis Rodman is guaranteed to prevent nuclear armageddon. But the words with which I closed this point endure. When confronted by some new and imminent doom, keep your head.

Look Outward – Even in 1993, with decades of self analysis encouraged by Donahue and Oprah, the risk of a generation becoming self-absorbed and self-indulgent was on everyone’s mind. We weren’t millennials. We’re in our 40s now. We’re driving the economy. It’s all okay. Seriously. Relax. We created the web as it’s known today. And mobile phones. So while it’s easy to tease millennials, simply remind them to look outward and it will all be fine. Encourage them to love themselves, but don’t lose themselves to the world around.

Save the Best – Specifically, this piece of advice was about saving your best and unequaled historical achievement for ethnic coexistence. When I spoke this in 1993, just days earlier a cross had been burned into the front yard of a family hosting an African American youth in a neighboring town. When I write this in 2017……well…..Charlottesville is just one example. I’ll leave the actual words I delivered to a small town graduating class of 100 here. While they might reveal the naivety of youth, I don’t know that they need to be improved upon.

“This prejudice stems from only one thing, and that is ignorance. Do not let ignorance, the ignorance perhaps intrinsic in a small town rearing, affect you. If you are anything in life, be worldly and accepting. Nothing can be accomplished if we let ourselves be eaten away by the type of hate that grips people in Bosnia and other nations warring solely out of hatred. We will not see a person on Mars in our lifetime if, by the time our children learn to walk, they are handed a gun and told to kill. Do not be ignorant, and save your best.”

Nostalgia ensures I remember the entire speech as well received. Hell, let’s assume there was a standing ovation. What I do know is that I offered to end with a poem. It began –

There once was a man from Nantucket

….. Then they pulled my mic.

2 thoughts on “24 years later….lessons from my high school graduation speech

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