Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Tomorrow I Graduate

As a closing assignment, my AP lit teacher had everyone write a graduation speech and present it to the class. I didn't end up trying out, but I'm proud of it, so I'll post it here for you to enjoy. There's some rah-rah-go silverwolves stuff that doesn't apply to you, but bear with me.

Graduation Speech
            Senior year is an odd stretch of life because we're supposed to live in three times simultaneously.  The past. We're still wallowing in a lot of the same ruts we fell into sophomore year. But it's not all bad-we're also reliving our greatest hits. There are times I'm walking across the Commons, slipping in between these scrawny girls who could fit into lockers and boys who could pass as teachers if the mood strikes them, nothing on my mind but getting out to my car before the parking lot gets congested, and then it hits me. I have a car. Shouldn't I be, like, eleven now?
            Then there's the present. Our last chance to do everything is now. Join a club, go to prom, write crappy chemistry essays at three A.M. But while we're trying to do all that, we've got college applications and scholarships and trying to find jobs.
            And now for the big one. The future. All our lives, we've been told that we don't live in the real world. We've said it ourselves-"Nobody uses quadratics in the real world. What's the point of math if the most we do after high school is calculating a tip?" But to tell you the truth, you're already living real lives. Adolescence is a saga, not the prologue to the rest of your life. The world you live in right now is no less valid because you're a teenager. Tomorrow looks a lot like today. The problems and passions you have at eighteen are things you'll carry with you for the rest of your life. So are the people. More than half of Americans age twenty five or older live within fifty miles of their birthplace. So sorry, you probably are going to run into your ex and backstabbing friends.
            In the media, high school is either this fluffy, happy experience where we float from football games to prom night, or a gritty day-by-day struggle. If I've learned anything in high school, it's that no life is all one thing. Maybe you'll remember high school for the year you walked through the valley of the shadow of death, or maybe you'll only recall your highlights reel from the next year, but both happened. You can't help clinging to the past. Nostalgia will never bring your best days back, but reminiscing over your good times will do more for you than reliving your worst moments over and over again. I said the passions and problems you have in high school will stay with you for the rest of your life. That's true, but it's also true that you are also the master of your own memory. You don't get to choose everything that happens in your life but you decide which pieces to hold onto. So what do you want to be? There are different truths for different people. Do you want to move forward and laugh in the face of the future? Do you want to hold onto the days where you watched your world burn down around you, because those flames turned out to be the refiner's fire and you rose like a phoenix from the ashes? Find your right answer and learn to live with it.
            I've lived in Riverton since I was born. I've known some of you since kindergarten, and some of you I never got to know at all. Some of you have full ride scholarships. Some of you barely scraped by and you see no future beyond the entry level job you have now. But that doesn't matter. Not yet. You graduated high school and that is something no one will ever be able to take away from you. It was hard for you, and it was hard for all the supposedly perfect people you think surround you. Everyone has an invisible struggle.
            When you were six, adults asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, and you had a different answer every week. Astronaut! Ballerina! President! When you were twelve, you had more "grown up" answers. Dentist! Librarian! Doctor-lawyer-engineer! Then you're sixteen, and you're supposed to have this bullet point list of how you're going to get your perfect job, pay off your student loans, and save for retirement all at the same time. Then you ditch it two years later because you're eighteen, on the threshold of adulthood, and it's finally dawned on you that you have no idea where you're going. Most of us won't live out our childhood dreams. We'll be marketing directors and human resource managers instead of astronaut ballerinas. But I've got news for you: you will not be a job when you grow up. You will do a job.  Life is so much more than just a career.
            You will do different things over the course of your life. Missionary, college student, working man, mother-but the only thing you will ever be is yourself, and high school prepared you for that better than you think. You've learned to feel comfortable in your own skin. You've learned to march to your own beat while fitting into the rhythms of life. You've learned to "keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you." You've learned to be the hero of your own story.
            Or maybe you haven't yet, and that's just fine, because your twenties are for figuring life out, and you're not even there yet. Don't let anyone tell you life is short. Living is the longest thing you'll ever do.
            The historian Bernad Berenson said, "I would, if I could, stand on a busy corner, hat in hand, and beg people throw me their wasted hours." Time is worth far more than money. The clock's still ticking but the time's not up. You've got a hundred years to live, or maybe less, doesn't matter, because you live life in the present tense.
            You probably think you've accomplished so much less in your high school life than everybody around you. But there are six hundred and fifty people around you thinking the exact same thing. I can't tell you how many times I've fallen into that trap, and I'm an AP student, Sterling Scholar, and I joined somewhere between six and nine extracurriculars this year. I've lost count. However you've measured your life in the past, I want you to look back and think about what you have done, and how much is still left to do. Wherever you go from now, whoever you decide to be, do something with your life. Raise a child, write a novel, fight a battle, let the world know you were here-but don't spend so much time in the world that you forget how to be you. It's a tricky balance, but you'll find it eventually.

            Everyone talks about graduation like it's the end of an era. False. Remember that theme song they piped through the hallways every single day sophomore year? It's time to begin, isn't it? You've come so far and you'll go farther still. You did it, Silverwolves. So hold your head up and walk like you know what you're worth. You conquered high school-you can do anything. 

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