• Valedictory

    [This is my son Trevor’s high school valedictory speech (Yes, he gets it from his Mom).  It is not exactly fastener related, but we are Fastener Freaks after all…]

    “I’ll admit, when Mr. Faulkner first asked me to speak today, I was confused. I didn’t understand what a valedictorian speech was supposed to be. I know what you’re thinking: “What’s so difficult to understand? This kid must be a moron. How is he our valedictorian?” But you have to remember, as the Official Class of 2010 Obnoxious Perfectionist, it’s my job to overthink things. And if you think about it, the idea of a valedictorian speech is kind of strange; you spend four years carefully selecting the nerdiest kid in the whole school, then you make him show off his social skills in front of 6000 people.

    Since I couldn’t see the logic behind it, I decided to start asking around: what did my friends think was the point of a valedictorian speech? Well, first of all, let me say that an alarming number of people gave me the exact same advice: “No big words.” I’d like to reassure those people now: I would never engage in such an extraneous act of intellectual onanism while entangled in this inherently exhibitionistic situation. Also, I know you guys hate big words, but you should try using them sometime: they make you sound smart, even if you say something that doesn’t make sense.

    Anyway, a few people did give me advice that varied from this norm. My wonderful parents gave the same responses that they always do when I ask them for helping coming up with ideas: my mother said “Write about your parents!” while my father said “Who cares, you never use our ideas anyway. Wait, are you going to quote this in your speech? I hate it when you do that.”

    My friend Gianna Pacini had something that was a tad more useful: she said that I was a representative of the class, so I should write a speech that represented them. This idea sounded sensible, but, unfortunately, it had one glaring flaw: I don’t think anyone really wants me to represent them. I’m kind of… Well, kind of a freak. I always have been. You can ask anyone who went to Laurel Elementary. Back then, every little boy had the same three hobbies: playing kickball, chasing girls, and mocking those who do not conform. I, on the other hand, enjoyed talking about my feelings, drawing pretty rainbows, and crying. Frankly, I was intolerable. I used to spend my recesses talking to the lunch lady, and I’m pretty sure she only put up with me because it was in her job description to be nice to everyone.

    I like to think I’ve improved since then, at least to the point that people pretend to like me without being paid to do so, but I’m still weird. I mean, really, there are four separate pictures of me ripping my shirt off in the yearbook. Plus, there are those rumors that I know everyone’s heard about me. Which are true, by the way. I am going to Stanford.

    So, sorry, Gianna, but I can’t claim to represent the class. That’s insulting to them.

    Most of my other closest friends, including Donovan Ott-Bales, Elizabeth Franco, and my sister Emily, told me that I should take the opposite approach and just focus on my Freedom experience, explain to people how I got where I am today. I would, but it’s kind of a boring story: I kissed up to my teachers, I used big words that don’t mean anything, and I was very, very lucky. After all, it was only by chance that I was assigned to the classes of Ms. LaVallee and Mr. Murnane freshman year, then Mrs. Elder and Mr. Pennington the next, and without their support and encouragement, there’s no way I could have made it to Stanford or this stage. I have only luck to thank for the privilege of being their student.

    See what I mean about kissing up to teachers?

    Anyway, my friends’ ideas were valuable, but I still didn’t understand the point of a valedictorian speech. In desperation, I turned to my absolute last resort: listening to the administrators. I think I was the only person paying attention during those endless senior meetings, but it was worth it, in the end, because I finally got a consensus! Apparently, the graduation ceremony is about dignity, tradition, and grace. In fact, those three terms were repeated constantly, at least once during every speech given to us. “Have fun during graduation! Just not during the actual ceremony, which is very dignified.” “Graduation is all about you! Except the ceremony itself, which is all about tradition.” “Be yourselves! But not while you’re graduating, because it’s supposed to be graceful.” Apparently, all I had to do was have dignity, tradition, and grace, and my speech would fit into the ceremony just fine!

    And there’s the problem. Anyone who knows me at all will tell you: I am very, very far from dignified, traditional, or graceful. I lost my dignity in a tragic accident during the fourth grade, when Keaton Lynn pulled my chair out from underneath me as I was sitting down. As for tradition… The last tradition I followed was potty training, and I still sometimes cheat on that one. And grace? Don’t make me laugh. I’m a recovering adolescent! “Teenage” and “awkward” are practically synonyms.

    Actually, that one isn’t just me. We’re all pretty awkward, whether we admit it or not; it’s inherent in our stage of life, part of the transition from childhood to adulthood. We’re not so dignified, either. After all, this is the YouTube generation! One can’t simultaneously maintain one’s dignity and post a hilarious video of one and one’s friends dancing to “Party in the USA.” And most of us made that choice a long time ago.

    But you know what? That’s not a bad thing. It’s who we are, and though we can pretend to be those mature, sophisticated graduates, full of dignity, tradition, and grace, for an hour or two, it’s like… When people dress their pets up for Halloween. Yes, it might look like an adorable baby for the night, but in the morning it is still just a cat, and you’re still just a creepy cat lady who uses animals as poor substitutes for genuine human interaction.

    More importantly, though, dignity, tradition, and grace are awful ideals. Look back through history, and find me someone, anyone, who did something amazing without risking their dignity, their traditions, and their grace. Here, I’ll save you some time: there’s only one. James Bond. And he’s not even real!      Anything worth doing involves risk, involves putting yourself out there and facing possible rejection and ridicule. Every great scientist has been laughed at. Every great artist has been called a hack. Every great love began with two uncertain people, wondering if they should make the first move. Awkwardness is not the opposite of greatness, it is a prerequisite.

    Which is why it seems strange to focus so obsessively on these false ideals during our graduation, the moment we are told is to be the start of our adult lives. Don’t we want those lives to be exciting, to be great? If we spend them tiptoeing around inside the boundaries of dignity, tradition, and grace as we are today, they won’t be.

    In the end, the best advice I got was from last year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, Amber Basore and Kayla Suhrie. They said, simply: “The class speaker represents the class. The salutatorian looks back on high school. The valedictorian… looks to the future.”

    So, here I am, looking to the future, and asking all of you to do something, for me. Make this hour of dignity, tradition, and grace your last. Stray from the path of mediocrity set out for you, break the single file line, cast off your ID card and burn it. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to look foolish, to make progress, to embrace awkwardness. Don’t be afraid to be a freak.”

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