Jul 27, 2010

30 Year Retrospective

I attended by 30th high school reunion this past weekend. I had occasion to find a draft of the speech I gave graduation night. I had to laugh at it in many places. But there are truths in there as well. Funny thing is, I don't remember knowing these things much of my life. I guess I knew them, forgot them, and had to rediscover some of them. I found the draft written on four pages of yellowed notebook paper, in PEN. It also had rehearsal timings on it. I was a night owl even then. It's marked 11:07:00 to 11:13:45 pm. I have vivid memories of typing the final speech onto little index cards. Oh the good old days!

Here is the speech from May 29, 1980. (It was a draft, so I've not corrected it.)

School officials and guests, fellow graduate candidates, and our honored parents and guests,

Tonight is the night that we, the Class of 1980, emerge from the cocoon of American public education. In the fall of 1968, each of use was fitted with the mold of a good contributing citizen. That mold was awkward with power and heavy with responsibility. But now, 12 years later, we have grown to fit those molds, and, in fact, each of us has carved into the sides of those mold a mark, a distinguishing characteristic, that we must and will live with the rest of our lives.

The fact that tonight we graduate tells us that something is finished. Tonight, both the State of Texas and the Borger ISD believe that they have taught us well. But what have they taught us? They believe that we, their students, their children, are ready to live in this world independently, on our own, totally self-sustaining if need be.

What makes both these proud bodies, who have provided our education, think that we are ready? Surely it is not because we know that "man" is a noun and "run" is a verb. Is it because we know 'Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 14...92?' Or because we know that 4 X 5 is 20? No. It is because of something much more than all of these.

Facts did not make or break our education. True, someday we will need all these facts. They may even be vital, but these are not the main goals of our education. Our education has, from the very start, sought after two main goals.

The first is to teach us to be with people, to need people. As Plato put it, "Trees and fields tell me nothing; men are my teachers." We, as a class, are unmatched in our feel for one another. We have learned that to be alone, to be lonely, is often unbearable. We know that we need each other to love, to hate, to laugh and to cry, to work and to relax, and sometimes even just to think. We've learned this and it has become a part of us; we will keep on needing people for the rest of our lives. We have been taught well.

The other thing, the other objective of our education, is to teach us to study. No, not to memorize facts, but to gather our own facts and (so to speak) to write our own textbooks. Throughout school we have been told "to think about it," or "to look at it again," or even "to analyze the situation carefully." Al these boil down to just one thing: in order to survive we must constantly collect facts, look at those fact together, and then make a choice.

Since high school is over for you, and especially if you've decided to go immediately into the business world, you may be thinking that there is no more doing assigned homework, no more reading the books, and no more taking the tests. Well, if you are, you're wrong.

School is over; that part of life is past, but with each finishing, there springs up a new beginning. It is time to start applying study to our own real lives.

When you go down to buy that new car, do you just pick from a distance the prettiest one. No, you look at the car from a distance, you look at it from inside, you look at the options, you look at the gas mileage, you look at the price. You look at all the facts and then you chose.

The same thing has to apply to our lives. George Moore, a turn of the century writer, noted that "The difficulty in life is the choice." I think he should have said that "Life is the choice." To decide on a career or a college requires study and a choice. When you move to a new house, a new city, a new state, you study and then choose. To marry, to find a husband or wife, requires careful study and choice. To live, to just keep going, demands that you look around and decide. To be one's own self... that requires the most study and the greatest choice. Even if you make the wrong choice, if you learned the facts first, it will be easy to change.

Please, as we leave tonight, probably never to be 204 graduates strong ever again, remember that your life is your choice to make, but that you have got to know the facts. And you have got to know yourself first.

"To know, love and serve street dependent youth."
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