Saturday, June 5, 2021

To the Graduating Class of 2021

In Brownsburg, tonight represented the end of the school year.  The last day of class was a week ago.  Tonight is graduation.  My thoughts go to the wisdom that many will try to impart through commencement speeches, while the newly free minds will be focused on one thing and one thing only: walking across that stage so that everything is finally finished.

Like last year, I know of no reason why I would ever be asked to give a commencement speech, but were such an occasion ever to present itself, this is what I was say.  (I should note that, again, the speech itself probably gives good reason why I'll never be asked to do so.)


Ladies and gentlemen, family and friends, administration and faculty, graduating class of 2021, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you tonight.  It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here and to join in this celebration and transition in your lives.

Though I realize it was [mumbled under breath] years ago when I was in your position, that time seems to have flown by.  From my graduation night, I've forgotten a lot of things.  I can't remember the speaker that was present.  I can't remember what was going through my head at the time.  I can't even remember the speech I gave.  It's lost in a fog of memories.  I do remember being ready to move quickly through the ceremony.  To get to the party at home, to get to Project Graduation.  To get on with this new beginning.  In that spirit, I will try to keep these comments brief, and hopefully a little entertaining, so that we can get to the part of the ceremony that everyone is truly here for.

I suspect, though, many of you will never forget this graduation, just like you will never forget this past year.  It was probably not the senior year you imagined growing up.  There were a lot of changes this year, and a lot of things to deal with throughout the year.

You more than most have learned how to adapt.  You've been forced into new learning environments, new technologies, new social norms, new world wide situations.  All of which continued to change throughout the year.  You likely had quarantines, and virtual learning, and many, many different accommodations.

And yet, you are still here.  

You have adapted, you have learned, you have grown.

That's the secret to life.  

To grow, to learn, to adapt and change.

To roll with it.

While I do not claim to have it all figured out, I do know this, life has a way of humbling us.  Even if we can perfect all the things in our control, something can always intervene.  Hurricanes, death, disease.  Quarantine.

What matters is how you respond to it?

Will you learn and grow from your situation?  Or will you try, foolishly, to remain unchanged?

Louise Erdich said, "Things that do not grow and change are dead things."  Are you alive or dead?

Have you learned something from this past year?  This interruption of life?  

Like many, are you looking forward to life returning to "normal"?  Or are you planning on making the new normal "better"?  More environmentally friendly, more inclusive, more equitable, more just?

I pray you do better than the status quo.  I pray you have learned that this season has revealed systemic issues that will fall to your generation to address.  Issues like:
  • The need for better healthcare for all of us, healthcare that does not disproportionately affect specific communities.
  • The need for better access to voting.  It shouldn't take a pandemic for us to plan for more accessible ways to vote than standing in lines.
  • The need to value our vote.  It's under attack and we should be all interested in protecting our voice.
  • The need for broadband internet as a public utility, accessible by all.  Education success should not depend on your ability to find and pay for high-speed internet.
  • The need for better education funding and solutions.
  • The need for a living minimum wage.  Our lowest paid workers were essential in this crisis. Many of our highest paid were not.  Think on that.
  • The recognition of the impact we can have on our planet.  Look how quickly the planet started to heal itself when we were slowed down.
  • The need to address our racial bias.  To address the sin that we have ignored for so long in this country.  The need to heal the wounds of slavery once and for all.
That's a big list.  It is daunting.  It contains a laundry list of things the generations before me and my generation have so far failed to accomplish.

Here's what we've also seen though.  
  • We've seen the importance of science.  Though we have many that are doubting science and many that have tried to sow that doubt for political and financial power, we have also seen the power that science brings.  The amazing development of this vaccine, built on the back of years of research into this type of vaccine.
  • We've seen the importance of art.  We like to downplay the arts, particularly when artists speak up and out, but we all made it through this past year and a half thanks to good art.  Television, movies, music.  That is what make quarantine bearable.
  • We've seen the importance of history.  Of truly knowing history, especially the parts that we do not like to talk about.  The parts we have forgotten, or were never taught.  We've seen how that impacts our present.
  • We've seen the importance of civics. The importance of raising our voice, of voting, and making an impact.  Of owning up to our history and implementing change to make it right.
This is why you are here.  Why this diploma is so valuable. Why it is so important for you to continue to foster a spirit of learning.  To be a continual student.  To not let this be the end of your journey, but just a beginning.

The great thing is, I think you are all up for the challenge.  The last two and a half months have proven you are ready for whatever life throws at you.  That you can adapt.  That you can learn.  That you can change. 

That you can do better than us.

Keep it up.

No comments:

Post a Comment