Pomp and Circumstance

As the school year rolls into a June stop, I always like to press pause and ask my Seniors to reflect on their first 18 years, and consider imparting some advice on their peers. To that end one of their final assignments is to write a Valedictorian Speech, regardless if they will give one at Graduation or not. I write a Commencement Speaker Speech, regardless that I will not give it at Graduation. Seems like a task worthwhile for all of us to do these last days, don’t you think? The other day, during Period 3 we each stood at the podium on the auditorium stage, and addressed each other with all the pomp we could muster. I can assure you, they move me to laughter and tears every year, and I am always in wonder over their wisdom and optimism. This time too.

Tonight, I will share my speech with you.

Let me first congratulate you, class of 2023! Cheers!

Looking back on all the long days and late nights, the tedious or challenging assignments, the moments where you were desperate to figure out the problem mixed together with times your head was splitting, mornings you dragged yourself through the front doorway and afternoons you raced to a game or practice or performance or job or friend who needed you, for all you have devoted to your education and your school community, you should be very proud of yourself. Accomplishments such as gaining a diploma, take drive and determination, especially when you can’t see the end of the road, but you keep going anyway. For this moment, on this day, feel the pride of such a grand accomplishment. Let that permeate you fully.

Thank you for choosing me as your graduation speaker. I am honored and delighted to be able to address you all. Although one is expected to impart wisdom when asked to speak at such an occasion, I am aware that my words, fleeting and floaty like confetti, may only barely reach your ears. Looking back at all the advice I was given during my early years, I must say, I didn’t listen to much of it. Not that I didn’t want to, but I have an independent streak that precluded heeding others’ wise words. I imagine there are those of you in the audience that might relate to this. At times I wish I had followed those who told me to take the smoother, well-worn path in life, instead of the poorly marked, often rocky and circuitous route, but I didn’t see myself discovering much along their way and struck out to find this one instead. 

Time and time again I ventured off on what now feels like a crazy exploration. Before you start envisioning how wonderful and magical explorations can be, don’t forget they are filled with dangers and pitfalls, all which come along unexpectedly and often painfully. There are even periods of time when there is no movement whatsoever, and you feel life spinning away while you sit solid and uncertain. You get stuck.

Perhaps only in reflection are these not so perfect moments so very precious. In the moment you can’t quite see your way out of yourself. But when you do, it will be exactly what you hoped life would be. And it will be all your own. A canvas streaked with the hues you blended from your own choices, your own decisions, your own learning.

In the very near future you will step out and away from your cozy home, your dearest friends and your own small past, into a vast world that needs your talents. Our world is desperate for people willing to do what it takes to solve the complex problems dominating our headlines. Focus on finding the one task that you really love to do, and learn to be the very best at doing it. Don’t let yourself stagnate for too long in despair or apathy or even distraction. Let one step lead you to the next. Let your heart and mind be your compass. Say yes to every dawn you are gifted. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Stretch a bit for excellence. Pay attention to the evening stars. Beyond even. 

Like floaty confetti, blow about for a bit, but do come back. Do let me know what you discover.


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