Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My 2004 High School Graduation Speech

Clipping from the Ordway New Era, May 2004.
Interviewing my cousin Jessica about her high school graduation put in me in a nostalgic mood.  So I got my yearbooks out from storage and thumbed through those for a while, remembering all the good times.  I also unearthed various high school photos, old newspaper clippings and even the graduation speech I delivered as salutatorian (you know, second to valedictorian).  I thought it would be kind of nice to share it with you guys.  Seems such a shame that I only got to read it once...  besides, I discovered after the fact that my microphone was having issues and you couldn't even hear me very well!  Here goes:
When you look in the thesaurus, there are many different words for second.  You could say another, duplicate, extra, inferior, lesser, lower, reproduction, runner-up, supporting, unimportant, backup, bush-league, minor-league, insignificant, small-fry, trivial, substandard and... dinky.  However, I think I'll just stick with the term salutatorian.

All of the various words I just trailed off have one thing in common:  they make it sound like being second is bad.  But what's wrong with being second?  Or third?  Or fourth?  Or even thirty-fourth?  Nothing.  And that, my fellow classmates, is what I will be speaking on today.

To start off, I want to tell you a little about three different people that you might have heard of.  The first guy started off in the United States Air Force as a fighter pilot, combating in 66 missions during the Korean conflict.  He later designed the first permanent space station and then founded Starcraft Boosters, Inc., which deals with innovative designs in the field of space technology.  Along with the new company, he is currently writing a book dealing with space tourism and is a successful advocate for humans in space.  Who is this man?  This man is Buzz Aldrin, more commonly known as the second man on the moon.

For those of my classmates who aren't into science and could care less about the moon, I have another example... this one dealing with politics.  If you can remember this chapter in your history books, there was a president by the name of John F. Kennedy from 1961 to 1963.  In 1963 he was assassinated and his vice-president, the man considered only second-best, became the new found president.  This man, Lyndon B. Johnson, was behind such ground-breaking ideas as the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Medicare which today still enables many senior citizens to afford their much-needed prescription drugs.

Okay, most of my classmates probably don't care too much about politics either, so here's my final example.  This guy's first single was a bestseller, he reached #1 on TRL, he was included in Rolling Stone's People of the Year for 2003, and he performed at the Miss America Pageant.  The guy I'm talking about is Clay Aiken, the runner-up to American Idol's second-season winner Ruben Studdard.  Although Clay only placed second in the competition, he seems to be making a name for himself and his album has even outsold Ruben's album.

So what is the point of all this?  Is it to show how much better I am than the valedictorian?  Definitely.  Just kidding.  Am I really going someplace with this?  Definitely.

Some people like to say, "You win some, you lose some."  That's a shame, because with the right mindset, you win some and you win some more.  What did Buzz Aldrin, Lyndon B. Johnson and Clay Aiken all have in common?  They all started off being inferior to another person.  That's going to happen.  There will always be someone smarter than you, nicer than you, stronger than you, cuter than your, or funnier than you.  But we have to remember that there will never be someone better than you.  We can't live our lives comparing our achievements to those of another.  The three individuals I mentioned lived their lives to the fullest and did not let the stigma of someone beating them actually beat them.

The reason for their success and your future success, class of 2004, is that they had a positive outlook on life, they took risks, they were hard workers, and they strove for personal growth.

In order to ever feel like you are number one, on top of the world, you must be able to see the world positively.  Sitting in front of me, right now, are thirty-four of the most successful, intelligent people I have ever seen.  Actually thirty-three because I can't see myself!  But truly, we have already achieved so much in our high school careers that if we could only see how well we are doing it would be almost impossible for us to fail.  Success is only what we perceive it to be.  When we use positive thinking, we can make bad experiences into good ones, we will see options that we never knew existed, we can find our strengths in what seems to be a mountain of shortcomings.  Clay Aiken saw his loss to Ruben Studdard in a positive light and turned his exposure from the show into the means to make him successful.  However, when we think negatively, and I would know, we defeat ourselves.  Winston Churchill once said, "For myself I am an optimist - it does not seem to be much use being anything else."

Another factor in feeling like you are number one is to use your positive thinking to help you take risks in your life.  When you are thinking positively, risk-taking should be rather easy; because you are 99% sure that everything will work out and if it doesn't you know it will next time.  Risk-taking embodies everything from asking questions in the classroom to trying new and scary things.  Risk-taking can mean doing things you aren't good at, standing up for things that no one agrees with, and following paths when you don't know where they will lead you.  Risk-taking is getting into a spaceship and being launched to the moon... and look how far that risk has taken Buzz Aldrin.  Theodore Roosevelt once spoke of taking risks when he said, "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."

Trying to succeed is more than just taking risks:  it is working hard.  Is it easy to graduate from high school?  More so for some, but for others it's hard work.  I know how hard some of my classmates have studied, struggled, and worked their fingers to the bone in getting to this day.  Hard work will take you anywhere you want to go.  If you are willing to work at something, you will become better at it.  When Lydon B. Johnson was suddenly thrust into the presidential seat, I'm sure he didn't find his new job to be a piece of cake.  The nation was in the middle of the Vietnam War with the loss of an extraordinary president.  It took a lot of hard work for Johnson to handle the situation and accomplish what he did.  He once said, "In the Great Society, work shall be an outlet for man's interests and desires."  We all know that hard work will eventually lead to a job well done which in return will bring satisfaction and fulfillment.

Along with the hard work we put into our external battles, we must put the same ambition into our internal battles:  we must strive for personal growth.  Personal growth is so vital because in the grand scheme of things, all we are accountable for is ourselves.  Whatever endeavor we pursue, whatever risk we take, whatever road we follow should all help us to be ourselves and to make ourselves into the best we could ever be.  We can't live our lives comparing ourselves to other people.  We must try to make the most out of our own lives, because everyone else is just doing the same thing.  Every time you think someone is better than you, someone else is thinking it right back... but about you.  Gordon B. Hinckley gave this quote, "You are good.  But it is not enough just to be good.  You must be good for something.  You must contribute good to the world."

I'd like to end by giving my full confidence that the Crowley County High School graduating class of 2004 will contribute much good to the world.  I feel that every member of this class is truly number one, and like the thesaurus says, they are advanced, champion, dominant, eminent, first-string, head-of-the-line, leading, legendary, paramount, praiseworthy, premier, ranking, ruling, supreme, top-flight and valuable.  We are all valedictorian.
 Wow.  It was too long then and it is too long now!  Ha ha!  I sure am long-winded!

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