This past week, Fairfax County’s seniors, the Class of 2010, graduated. My husband, David, teaches English at our local high school, and was voted by the seniors to give the Commencement speech at the graduation ceremony. He was introduced at graduation as “hard & crunchy on the outside but soft & chewy in the middle.” The student speaker joked about how Dave used to make fun of a student because of his long hair, but they thought it was only becase he was jealous because he doesn’ have any hair. The student introducing him also told a story relayed to him by a teacher: “I mentioned to David that I was hungry in school one day & had forgotton my lunch. When I got back from teaching my next class, there was a happy meal waiting on my desk for me.”
I loved his speech and wanted to share it with you. (I’m not including the ad-lib funny parts, because you had to be there for those 😉 I know it meant a lot to the kids & parents there…
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Colleagues and Guests, Principal Bates and of course Class of Two Thousand and Ten, it is a great honor to be here before you speaking today.
Eleven years ago I sat where you are now, looking up at some old, bald guy telling me that he once sat where I was sitting… But I all I could think about was when is his speech going to end so I can get to beach week at where else? The Jersey Shore.
The moral of this story is that by the age of twenty-one this attitude had me bald with a terrible GPA and nothing but a couple of Beer-Pong Trophies to show for it. I made a lot of bad choices in my youth and I’ve spent the past seven years working harder than I’d ever thought possible to remedy them. Immanual Kant says ‘the only thing that can bring you morals are the starry sky above and the moral law within” and Saba (a student) has fallen asleep. Just like class.
Fine, I get it, no Kant. But seriously listen… you are the result of the choices you make. How about a Batman Quote? It’s not who you are inside but your actions that define you. Better? It’s not who you are inside but your actions that define you. The scary thing about this is that half the time you don’t even realize the choices you’re making because you’re just doing what you always do- what you’ve always done. When you’re in a situation for the first time- that’s when you think about what you’re going to do and why. The first time you get too much change back at McDonald’s: Are you thinking, “Sweet, I’m sure I’ve overpaid before,” or are you thinking about that worker’s register coming up short at the end of his shift and that money coming out of his paycheck? Say you take the money, no biggie, fine- but the next time you’re given too much change, that money just goes right into your pocket; you don’t need to think about it. You’ve already had this conversation with yourself, why have it again? You’re on auto-pilot. How about the first time someone calls you a bad name in elementary school? You have to think about how you will react- you can:
A) call them one back – even though mom said not to call names
B) punch them in the face – they do have it coming
C) walk away – everyone’s going to make fun of you
You choose your action. But no need to think about it next time. Next time you’re just going to react. Get it? Re- Action- Repeat your Action. Eventually we all are faced with enough situations that we stop thinking about why we are doing something and just do what we’ve always done in that situation. This is now who we are. Sometimes people will observe our behaviors and label us. What a “Pyscho!” What an “Idiot!” She is such a “blank.” He such an “blank.” (My speech got edited 😉 But you know what kind of labels are out there. And more importantly, what kind of behavior gets you those labels. The sad part is, when you got that label you probably didn’t even think about what you were doing, you were just reacting, doing what you always do in that situation. That’s why those initial choices are so important.
At twenty-one years old, I realized I didn’t like who I was. I met this girl who kept telling me “that’s not ok,” when I would do something morally wrong, and the funny thing was, deep down I knew she was right: How I was acting didn’t reflect who I was inside. I had to figure out why. I started thinking about why I was doing the things I was doing (like punching people in the face) and then I had to change how I handled those situations… (Actually she stills tells me when I’m not doing the right thing, but it’s way less often now.)
I want to do the same favor for you. Class of 2010, you’ve made many achievements and accomplishments in your four years here at Herndon and I have truly enjoyed teaching you…. but… not all of you have been the model of good behavior. Secretly, I think that’s why you picked me to make this speech. You knew you would get honesty…. So some of those choices you’ve made these past four years: “That’s not ok.” So think about how you came to those decisions.
All of you are going to be faced with many new situations in college and in the “real world” and you are going to be in some familiar situations. When someone asks you to go out drinking what are you going to say? What about Sex? or Drugs? What happens if you say ‘yes’ to the first one, do you answers to the second two change? How about Cheating? Plagiarizing? Speeding? I’m just saying… think about where you stand on these things and why. I’m telling you this because nobody told me this. College is the chance to start over. You can change that label – You can change your answers to those questions, or if you like them, keep them the same. Just take this opportunity, Class of 2010, and think about who you’ve been the past four years. Do you want to be the same person? You are the only one who can answer this and you know deep down there is something you want to change.
Make it happen.
Be who you want to be, not who you’re friends want you to be.
Let your actions define you proudly.
…And oh yeah- Congratulations! ”
I’m so proud of him and won’t go on about my feelings to save you from my cheesiness. But Congratulations to all of you moms with graduating seniors and YAY FOR SUMMER VACATION!!!