Sunday, October 28, 2012

High School Graduation Speech: 10 Years Later

2012 not only marks the tenth year I’ve been in New York City, but also the tenth anniversary of my high school graduation.

The combined milestones have compelled me to rummage through old photographs, musings, letters, speeches, and keepsakes from the last decade. Much like my recent “A Look Back” series, it gave me a chance to see my evolution as a human being and appreciate both the good and bad moments from the last 10 years.

A student at Bristol Eastern High School had to audition if they wanted to speak at graduation. I stayed after school on the day of auditions and was so interested in everyone else’s speeches and stories that I ended up being the last student to go before the selection committee. I’ve always been at ease speaking in front of people, so I said my speech as effortlessly as if I was having a casual conversation with friends.

Toward the end of the week, my AP English class held a celebration of family that allowed our parents to come in and hear the essays we had written about them. It just so happened that it was the same day that the graduation speakers were announced. I remember walking by the door with the piece of paper tacked to it that had my name on it with both of my parents by my side. I was thrilled, but what made me more proud was that I got to share that moment with them.

I must have read my speech at least 50 times the day of my graduation. I don’t remember feeling nervous though. Once my classmates and I marched into the auditorium and took our seats, I felt a strange sense of calm come over me. Laura Lindstrom—who was actually a neighbor of mine who also ended up in New York City—could have given a beautiful speech before me, but I was too busy mentally preparing for mine, that I don’t remember a word of it.

When I got to the podium, I recalled what a friend of mine had said a couple days before. “Don’t be nervous, all graduation speeches are boring. No one pays attention to them but your family.” Needless to say, my goal was to make people pay attention.

I hate when speakers thank everyone in the room for being there. I much prefer they just get right down to business. We get it, you’re honored, but we’d rather you show us that by blowing our socks off rather than boring us from the start. In that spirit, all I said was “good evening,” and started talking.

As you will not at all be surprised to hear, my speech was constructed around baseball. One of the things that I’ll never forget is watching the men in the audience sit up in their seats during my opening lines. There were more than 2,000 people in the room that night, and I knew from my first sentence I had them. It was the most fun and exhilarating experience I had in front of a large audience up until I spoke at my younger brother’s wedding last year.

However, there was one thing I’ll never forgive myself for doing. I flubbed the last line. The words tripped coming out of my mouth and I mangled the closing. My family couldn’t tell in person, but it’s clear as day on the video. I knew it after it happened too, which took some of the glow off the standing ovation I got (#firstworldproblems).

Oh, you probably want to read the actual speech huh? Here it is along with some pictures from my high school days. I’ll have more retrospectives on my last 10 years in New York City in the coming weeks.

Take a Breath

Baseball fans remember two things about a great baseball game; the beginning and the end. If you ask a fan who the starting pitcher was, or who ended the game with a grand slam, you’ll probably get an answer. Few fans remember the third baseman that came in in the seventh inning for defense, or the relief pitcher that laboriously tries to clean up the starter’s mess.

Beginnings and endings have a special place in our culture. They carry great significance in our mind’s eye and that is why we are here tonight. The Class of 2002 is here to end something. We are here to begin again.

I went to my best friend Jocelyn's senior prom as a sophomore. She remains an important part of my life is expecting her first child with her husband! 
In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character says, “There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds to show you what’s possible.” The Class of 2002 has arrived at that moment.

Tonight marks the turning of the page, the end of an era. In this end, we find new beginnings. Some of us are off to the workplace, where we’ll strive hard to supply our families with a safe and happy life. Some of us are off to college, continuing to challenge ourselves and to discover the pleasures of education.

The AP English class that made me the writer I am. This was after taking the AP test. Thanks to  my friend Brian for saying something funny and making me look like an idiot.
Whatever the case might be, the Class of 2002 is playing in a very different ballgame. The events of September 11 have created a world that is uncertain of itself and scared of what tomorrow might bring. In the ashes of a tragedy, the world is discovering new beginnings. The Class of 2002 is apart of that beginning. We are the next answer to evil.

Neil Young teaches us, “you have to turn on evil when it’s coming after you. You have to go in after it and never be denied.” We are now all citizens of planet Earth and great change is on the horizon. At the end of our high school careers, my peers and I face a tremendous challenge. In the words of Bob Dylan, “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the time they are a-changing.”

Running around Muzzy Field at halftime of the annual Thanksgiving Day football game with a giant American flag.
We begin our quest to make the world a better place. We have the chore of reversing the decisions of negligent politicians who have been afraid of change. We are left the job of restoring hope to a world now afraid of its own shadow. Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have been able to see further than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants.” The Class of 2002 will be the shoulders the world will stand on.

On the set of Funny Money. I played an English cab driver. Our director may or may not have walked out on our performance both nights.
Tonight, we leave high school behind. There will be no more study halls that last forever or endless excuses for forgotten homework. We no longer have to worry about getting caught going to McDonald’s for lunch. We are left with only the memories of first loves and horrible break-ups.  We leave behind a piece of ourselves tonight. We leave behind the rebellious, free-spirited teenager to embrace the responsibility of adulthood.

After being awarded the most improved player award my last year of organized baseball.  I didn't make the All-Star team, but got to run across Muzzy Field one last time as a baseball player.
Tonight the Class of 2002 walks off the playing field, eager for the next season; the next at-bat. I realize now there are no endings, there are only beginnings. Endings are simply a place where we can stop to catch our breath.

My advice to my classmates is: take a deep breath; we have a long game ahead of us. Thank you.

June 14, 2002

My brother Tom said I would regret wearing a stylish button instead of a bow tie for my junior prom. My only regret is not wearing my friend Paul's top hat. He also had white gloves and a cane. It was awesome.


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