On this auspicious occasion I’d like to blah blah blah blah blah. Furthermore, yadda yadda yadda. Which reminds me of an amusing story: blah blah blah.
It’s a difficult thing to make a graduation speech work. Who wants to listen? Everybody’s so distracted by premature nostalgia or postpartum dread or pre-party anticipation, you might as well address a crowd of milling sheep. Most speakers are wise enough to realize how hopeless the situation is and cut their losses by delivering a speech that takes little or no time to prepare and almost no energy to deliver.
It is possible to make a graduation speech stand up and work for a living. Here’s one entertaining example: Conan O’Brien speaking to last year’s graduating class at Harvard. And included below for your reading pleasure is the speech given by my nephew Ben upon his graduation from Elkin High School. It shares with Conan O’Brien the common theme of failure… a worthy point of rumination for us all.
And in conclusion, graduates, blah blah blah blah blah.
Elkin High School Graduation
I’m standing before you to deliver a speech. It’s a graduation speech so you’re
probably expecting stuff like “We’re at a threshold/milestone, and we’ll strive forward,
our futures bright, and we all need to remember each other and our parents and everyone.
Good luck in the future. Look back on this day. A bird in the hand is worth two in the
bush, you can lead a horse to water etc. etc. etc.”
Now, I’m not saying that that’s not true, but we’ve all heard it before, even
though this is our first high school graduation. I just want to do something a little
different, and offer a bit of advice, and it won’t be anything like “reach for the stars” or “keep leaming alive through life”, or anything like that. I just want to say, “Don’t eat dog tranquilizers”. That’s pretty simple and straight forward, and what’s more, it’s good advice. In fact, dog tranquilizers rank among the many various things on earth that people shouldn’t eat, part of a list that includes small lizards and gravel. Well, that’s about it for my advice. If there’s one thing I want to you walk away from Elkin High School with; it’s those words.
Actually, in all seriousness, I would like to pass on something that isn’t … what’s
the word … ridiculous. We ARE setting forth with high expectations. We HAVE already
been successful at this task, a high school diploma, and do look forward to bright futures.
What I’d really like for everyone in the class to do is to realize that in the future
all of us, and I mean ALL of us, despite the good foundation laid by our loved ones and our school, will fail at something. It’s one of those inevitabilities of life, and it’s certain that none of us will live in perfection. Failure can come in all forms, be it bankruptcy, botches, breakdowns, bungles, checkmates, collapses, declines, defeats, downfalls, errors, false steps, fiascoes, glitches, inadequacies, losses, missteps, stalemates, or washouts.
The point is, we’re all going to experience one or more of the preceding. It’s the
real world. In fact, how we learn to deal with our disappointments may be a truer test of character than how we deal with our successes. We shouldn’t get discouraged.
Samuel Beckett said, “When you’re in the bloody ditch, you can always sing.”
Monty Python also put it quite nicely, “Always look on the bright side of life”. Know
that we are all loved and supported, and that things can and will get better. They’ll get
better because of the support we get from our community and our loved ones.
Here I want to pause. I’d like to thank this community and this school
community, especially Mrs. Shelton, Mrs. Wagoner, Mrs. Laws just to name a few, not to
mention my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, and friends.
If we think about it, we all have a list like this, all the people, named and
unnamed, that have supported us through the past eighteen years and who will continue
to do so. Why don’t we all just take about 10 seconds to silently thank the people who
are special to us? I’ll keep time.
Let’s end on a positive note:
Remember that everyone slips from time to time, and maybe it really doesn’t matter, because we will all succeed at some point. The two are woven together. William Blake said:
Man was made for joy and woe
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
In that light, try to remember what success really means. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best when he said, “To laugh often and much, to win the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, to know even onelife has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded!”
So, I’d like everyone to keep in mind what success and failure really are, so as to be better, happier people. I hope all of you succeed in whatever you do. Once again, thank you, good luck, and stay away from dog tranquilizers.