High School Graduation Speech

What a remarkable thing it is to be young. It is to live a life of constant contradictions, where nothing is fixed, where crushes change as often as the weather, and ideologies are learned, adopted, unlearned, and replaced with new ideologies, and, well you get the point… This is the limbo where I seem to reside. On a given day I might be torn between imitating the kool nihilistic characters from early Godard films, or trying to emulate my own friends. In the end, we all seem to be searching for just the right mix of protection and openness. If we put ourselves out to the world, completely earnestly, we risk getting hurt. I have learned much of this struggle at Calhoun, and still have much to learn. When I give myself to something, I want to really give myself.

I have attended The Calhoun School for thirteen years. Thirteen years of blood, sweat, and tears (I am not talking about the horn-peppered nostalgia rock band). Thirteen years of thin crust pizza, thirteen years of laughter, thirteen years of number five pencils rolling under tables with gum firmly entrenched beneath them, of Steve Nelson strolling through the school as one would stroll through their garden, of basketballs hitting the hard wooden floor, of hearing music coming from across the hall, of jumping over the stone fence and into the haven of riverside park, of talking to teachers while eating lunch, of reminding everyone to be quiet this IS actually a library, of Black Rock forest, of stupid fucking rainbow games, of zabar’s voiceover announcements and old people crossing the street, and of faces bright and shining with possibility, with question marks written in their eyes, and hunger growing in my heart. These same phenomena will continue, but I will never experience them again. These are the small things that have been swimming in my mind lately, the things that have been waking me up in the middle of the night.  

Again, the quintessential thing about being young is change. Just this year, 2017, has been a constant battlefield in my emotions and my mind. One week I came into school every day bursting with excitement, ready to simply live in the moment man and treat everyone as the deserve to be treated. This was due in large part to reading Moby Dick. Another week, I came to school sulking with shades placed firmly over my eyes, just thinking I’ll be lucky if I can get through this shit. In this way, being young seems to be a metaphor for truth. Every week seems to hold a new revelation. But then, no, I have been duped, lead down a maze, a labyrinthine trap. I know less than I ever thought I knew less than.

This brings me to what I am grateful for. I am so grateful to Calhoun for fostering in me a thirst for knowledge. It is this deep well of things to learn, to experience, that get me up every morning. And it is hard work! It is impossible to stay always open to the world, it can be exhausting, it can easily lead to cynicism, because lets face it, the world is a beautifully tragic (Camus would say absurd) place. In our own country, democracy is more in question than it ever has been, and the world as a whole seems incredibly divided and ill equipped to deal with the rapidly encroaching changes in the atmosphere. Life seems more out of balance than ever before.

            In a way, Calhoun is a tiny microcosm of this turbulent world. It has its mores just as society does—how could it not? We may pride ourselves on community values and togetherness, but we sometimes seem as fragmented as everyone else. This is not a bad thing, it is merely typical. At Calhoun, I’ve lived together with, but still in separation from, so many of you. Now, as I am saying goodbye (after knowing some of you for thirteen years), I find it funny that I will probably end up like Holden Caulfield, missing those of you who I never got particularly close with, in some ways more than I will miss my friends. With my friends I am confident that we will meet again, but with those of you whom I never really befriended there will be a quiet lamentation, a softening of the edges, a reminiscence for things never had.

            In the end all that is left is a reduction of a reduction of a reduction as time churns and crunches onward. We grasp and flail for something solid, something permanent. Connecting with another person is as close as we can get.

            It lies within our capacity to change: we can choose to look up. We can choose to look left. We can choose to look right. We can choose to listen to someone else and momentarily ignore the voice in our own head. When was the last time you looked into someone’s face? Looked at the lines that caress their eyes? Looked at the slight creases next to their mouth, their lips, which speak and kiss. When was the last time you followed the waves of worry across their brow and saw the soul in their eyes? Turn your head and look at the person sitting next to you. Take their hand and feel their fingers. To me, that’s truth. Look at their face, look at their eyes. To me, that’s truth. That is the life in between the photographs, between the big milestones which sit like gravestones at predetermined checkpoints in our lives. That face is the truest place you could strive to reach, it is the place that is never on any map. Many of the faces here today will fade from me, but like the truest places, once visited, they will not be forgotten. Whether I like it or not, your faces, and the spirit of Calhoun, will stay etched somewhere between my mind and my heart.

I wish you all strength, perseverance, and good humor. We’ll all need it on our uncertain travels to come.