Sunday, June 9, 2019

Oregon City High School Graduation speech, June 9, 2019

Dear graduates, Our time is brief. I have three things to say. 

One. Humor me for just a minute. Let’s go back to English class (collective groan). Mr or Ms. Teacher is blathering on about literary stuff, and you catch the word “flashback” and suddenly, you, sitting here in your elegant red gown, have teleported back to The Worst Moment of Freshman Year. You know what I’m saying. The time you walked into the wrong classroom because you mixed up the B hall and the C hall. The time you cried in the bathroom because your friends talked behind your back. The first Real Relationship, followed by the disaster of The Breakup.

As you remember that moment, I want you to stop judging and hating and shaming that little freshman, and instead go back and thank her or him for being so brave. For showing up. For trying again. You already know that “worst moment of high school” experience is not going to be the hardest thing you ever face. And the courage you showed then, the gumption you had at 14 to come back and give it another go, is the same courage that you will summon as an adult when everything hits the fan. 

And hitting the fan it is, because, Two: You’re inheriting a messed-up world. We didn’t mean it to be this way, but here we are. You know the problems, and they are doozies. One of the defining challenges of your adulting years will be addressing imbalances in power. Here we are, with nearly the first quarter of the 21stcentury behind us, and we are still trying to figure out how to correct a system that privileges men over women, whites over people of color, straight over gay, able-bodied and minded over differently-abled, industry over environment. Your generation faces the particular task of creating openings for power for women and minorities that go beyond mere figureheads. Your generation knows the power of collaboration, the necessity of using ideas from a diverse range of individuals. You have seen what happens when we embrace new traditions, new ways of thinking about power, and so you are more likely than your parents or grandparents—wise and wonderful as they are—to not only acknowledge but demand the leadership of women and minorities, leadership which has been proven to more effectively address the intractable systemic issues we face. We will not resolve the challenges facing democracy, the environment, and poverty if the current systems of power do not shift. So vote. Your vote is your voice, and your generation will likely be the deciding voice in elections from local to national. Do not underestimate the power of your voice, of the rightness of your voice. You know what you know. Use what you know to speak truth to power. 

Three. Listen to me. I have something cool to give you. It’s from an American poet named Max Ehrmann, and he wrote this in 1952 a couple years before I was born. I loved it when I was your age, and I want to give it to you now. It’s titled “Desiderata,” which means, “the desired things.”

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story. 
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. 
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism. 
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass. 
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself. 
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. 
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. 
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy. 

So time for review. One, you have great courage that will show you how to live. Remember that. Two, use your vote because it’s your voice. Speak truth. And three, never never never forget that you belong and that you are needed. I love you. Be brave.