Letter to the Editor: The Graduation Speech I Wish I Could Give

| June 9, 2013

It’s June, and before we give love to fathers, we must toast our graduates! Perhaps most people in America have a secret desire to give the commencement address at their local high school.

Those with a desire, carry it as a very prestigious honor to be able to say they were the commencement speaker at their alma mater – no matter their school’s notoriety.

If the job is well done, they know that locals will quickly canonize them at eateries the next morning.

I fancy myself as a bit of an orator, and one day I should like to present my offering to the public. Then again, most of the public is usually tuned out at graduations as they take pictures; navigate an ocean of apps; or some are even worrying about whether invited guests will enjoy the potato salad back at the fire hall.

I would have to have the audience’s blessing, of course, especially the blessing of those who make the decisions within administration, so without those two things, I write this Graduation Speech:

First, I would start off by saying, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, administration, and members of the class of….wait what year is this? It goes by fast, huh kids? Ha-ha, hard to imagine!

You’re all wearing the number thirteen on your heads. Have you thought about whether or not that thirteen is lucky? Let me shatter some myths for you right now that we never really cleared up for you while you were a student. You’re not the one percent! This means that you are born into poverty, or the fear thereof. You are going to have to fight for your piece of the pie. Fight little, expect little reward. Ransom much, and reap the benefits of the “American Dream.”

Wealth is such an abstract concept to youth because families tend to hide so well their troubles from society – as well as, family members. The Government hurts this concept more as they are willing to give you everything that you need to sustain a life for yourself without you even asking; whereas just a generation ago that was not the case. As a result, you have a diminished capacity to hustle, and I’m not really sure that it’s your fault; your nation is attempting to enslave you with all these gifts.

So, if you are not running – to be honest, I didn’t see many of you run this year! At best, I saw some jogging with a little bit of running. Sometimes our system doesn’t do a great job in convincing you that running is worth the effort. There are a few graduates that are the school’s runners, physically, yes, but I’m using a metaphor to describe your desire and motivation exclusively. I think driven people will be the ones that rise above, no matter their test scores.

Better news to all of you that did not spend the last 13 years running; any day we can choose to forget the past and make a new start, bound by nothing.

I paraphrase a quote from Emerson, of course. It reads as follows, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

So, graduates don’t think about your “should have been’s” and your regrets as we are apt to do. I think your generation compounds those regrets, as youth today have more ways to let down their elders in ways never thought possible. Texting, YouTube, video games, designer drugs, and alcohol – now factor in driving and small amounts of personal freedom – Yikes! I’m not jealous I missed it.

In fact, there are so many cracks for you to fall into that I commend any of you for making it this far. Those are big responsibilities, but let me stand here and be the first to say publicly that I believe that all of you can make it! Not at the same pace or in the same way, but you can reach the heights of your potential if you’re willing to break a sweat! You all will find a sense of purpose and truth in the midst of this chaos. I believe you can fix this mess! I know you can make your families stronger! I know you will respect yourself by thinking of others first. I know this because I have seen your heart in action. You’re good people, and you’re hungry for truth! I’ve heard your questions!

Mom, Dad, family, and friends, I’m going to speak to you now.

Your sons and daughters have asked me some pretty awesome questions this year.

Questions like: “Can I be a lesbian and still go to heaven? Is there a God? Why can’t Israel and Palestine get along? Why is China growing so fast? Why are we shrinking so fast?”

These are heavy questions, and each time I answer one as best as I can, I throw myself out of balance. Do I tell them the truth, or do I tell them what makes them happy? Because sometimes you can really unsettle the lives of youth by being too honest with them – I’m learning that.

This generation sometimes lacks the capacity to absorb truth because they have been lied to for so long. Why are somethings illegal? While other things that cause greater harm are allowed to flourish? Equal taxes, accurate voting, the stories on evening news – in many cases, these are being exposed as perpetrated myths. Only true patriots stand up and ask the tough questions and cowards hide behind compliance!

I am very skeptical, and I question many of the goings-on in this country. I season all of my media with an ounce of salt before I consume it. Be a skeptic your nation needs that from you!

Now that I think about it, I don’t really feel great about sending our youth out in that mess alone! I feel like many of them need to be in here with us longer.

Graduates – I know in your own way, you possess some level of fear of the very future we’re offering to you as a prize; don’t be ashamed, though. It’s natural.

Better news is you will have a new ally to help you greet this mysterious new enemy we call the future. Who? ….Mom and Dad!

Mom and Dad – the thing that you have to do now is become their very best friend. You’ve let them grow, and I commend you for your guidance. It seemed natural to let them stumble a little bit in the safety of high school, but now there is more at stake.

Emerson speaks to you from the grave on this day! He dares you to forget the mistakes of your past and move forward with confidence and without condemnation. Be there, text them. Homework assignment! Send them this question at a time when you know they need to hear it, “What cha doin? I’m bored – you wanna hang?” If you can get them to respond, they will be in your back pocket forever. I don’t care if you have to drink five hour energy to keep up with them, be there! It will fix itself if you are present! Now don’t be offended at my meddling. I know I got a big mouth. All that I have said today was said out of faith, hope, and love.

I had a boss once who told me some very harsh truths about myself, and for a long time, I hated her for it! The truth is she loved me more than anyone else in my life at the time because she had to the willingness to be honest with me when others lacked the capacity. Sometimes it is most difficult to be honest with the ones that we love. Remember, we need to hear as many voices in our lives as possible in order to amplify our own strength. I give you this truth because I see something greater in all of you in the same way of my former employer.

In conclusion, I proclaim one last time that I see something greater in you! In all of us! Now you are charged with giving those gifts to others freely and of your own accord!

Ladies and gentlemen would you please congratulate with me the lucky class of 2013!”

~Robert Whitlaw

Robert Whitlaw has been in education for the past 18 years in both private and public education. He has a masters in curriculum and instruction as well as a principal certificate.

Previous submission by Robert Whitlaw: Letter to the Editor: A Disillusioned Optimist, Dreamer, Felon

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