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20 June 2006

Salutatory Address

Salutatory Address
to the Girard High School Class of 2006
8 June 2006

Good evening, Mr. McClelland, Dr. Tracy, members of the school board, administrators, faculty, teachers, distinguished guests, family, and friends.

It is truly an honor to be standing here tonight, presenting to you the results of one last writing assignment, after everyone else has finished with their schoolwork.

For almost my entire life, I have dreamt of this evening. All throughout high school, June 2006 has been the endpoint of any long-term plans or goals I had had. Suddenly, the time is now and my entire world has been shaken. Many of you sitting in the audience are probably wondering where the last eighteen years have gone as you've watched your loved ones grow up. You're not alone. Even I can't help but feel as though this moment is surreal, a dream, and yet it's not. Life goes on, tomorrow will come, and as the dawn rises, the students on this stage will join me in beginning our first full day as graduates of this fine school.

We are here tonight at an event called a commencement ceremony, a celebration of sorts. Why, then, did so many people bring boxes of tissues to wipe the tears from their eyes? What makes tonight any more special than any other night? The answer lies in the meaning behind the title.

When I think back, it's likely that I first heard the word "commencement" when my parents were probably talking about my then-babysitter's graduation. I'll bet I was amazed by it. Do they even make words that long? What is a commencement, anyways? Tons of questions would soon flood my young mind. After asking, I'd find out the simple answer to what we all now know: that a commencement is a ceremony such as this that celebrates the end of studies in high school.

Of course, it's evident that a commencement is much more than that, but I was only a child, and the definition I was given satisfied my curiosity at the time. But over the course of the next few years, I heard this twelve-letter word being used in some other ways. I don't remember exactly how it was used, but it probably had something to do with the recommencement of some foreign war or the commencement of yet another season of baseball. Surely there must be another meaning to this word.

I realized that every time I heard the word "commence," it referred to some sort of significant change; after a "commencement" occurred, something was completely different. Over time, from how I had heard the word used, I eventually came to a conclusion: a commencement must be an ending! Boy was I in for a rude awakening when I finally checked Webster's! It is, in fact, quite the opposite, which struck me as interesting. Why are we here celebrating the beginning of something? Just what are we celebrating anyways?

Yes, we have finished thirteen years of schooling, but more importantly, we are embarking on the rest of our lives. Some of us will soon become the college Class of 2010, while others will jump right into the workforce. Still others will go into tech schools or business schools, or enter the military and the armed forces. We will all live our individual lives, but decades down the road, when we retire from our jobs, what will we have to show for it? What can we do to become a better generation than the ones before us? We can start by pledging to make our own individual mark on the world by always conducting ourselves with utmost integrity, striving to be honest and good in everything we do.

Let's face it, though. As an individual high school student, it is difficult to make a difference in the world around you. It is not impossible, only difficult. It makes sense, though, because we are still learning. Even while our quest for knowledge continues beyond this day, commencement marks a transition into a time when our contributions to society become more apparent. We become people with a more active voice in the world. How will we use that voice to give back to our communities? Will the contributions made by the Girard High School Class of 2006 be made in a positive way, or not? As Mrs. DeMarco, our middle school guidance counselor would say, "the choice is yours."

We must be cognizant of our faults, acknowledge them, be accountable for them, and work towards doing better the next time around. In fact, we can easily extend the values of integrity outside the classroom and the workplace, and into the realm of daily life, both now and in the future. We must remain loyal to our friends, true to our family, and respectful of others.

There are some teachers I can think of who have exemplified such good character, coming into school at 6:30 every morning to prepare the best lessons possible, and staying after school as many as four days a week to help their students. They don't have to do this, but they see it as part of their job, sacrificing their time to go above and beyond the minimum requirements for the sole benefit of people like you and like me.

Imagine that you have a broken-down car. You keep pouring money into it, fixing it up little by little, hoping to get it to be drivable. How happy would you be if the time finally came when you could drive it down the road? How disappointed would you be if it ended up never running at all? This is what teachers deal with all the time; they invest their time and energy into each one of us. Some of us live up to their expectations. Others don't. Yet, no matter what, when the next bunch of students comes, they do it all over again with the same enthusiasm, because they trust that their effort will not have been wasted. For this, they deserve our sincerest gratitude and thanks.

It makes you feel special, knowing that there are people who care so much about your future that they are willing to invest their time in you, time that they could be spending pursuing their own interests. We should all be eager to hold up our end of the bargain, living up to their expectations and ultimately making their investment worthwhile. We must, then, strive to be honest and good in everything that we do. Absolutely nothing short of this is acceptable.

And now, since I am just another obstacle standing between my classmates and their diplomas, I leave them with a challenge: as you move your tassels to the other side of your cap and take your first steps in the next stage of your life, I challenge you to always act with integrity. Make the people of Girard proud. Make the world proud. You can contribute to making the world a better place by doing great things in an admirable and respectable way.

Thank you.

©2006, Timothy J. Parenti. All rights reserved.

6 comments:

Lexi Elizabeth said...

what a long speech.

Corrag said...

nice speech.. perhaps a little choppy into the conclusion but overall very powerful

art said...

nice.

i don't have much more to say, but that is a really nice speech. so, props.

TJ said...

Aw, Andrea, it was only 7 minutes, 8 seconds when I read it aloud. But 1165 words, when you're just reading it, yeah, it could seem pretty long. But I spoke at 163 words/minute, which is actually slower than my average, so there.

It's nice to know that Craig and "Art" actually still read this blog. Comment me more often, will you? Even if it's nothing constructive, I don't care; I want feedback, dangit!

And Craig, you should've seen the original. I cut a full two pages (double-spaced) right in the middle because it was "a completely separate speech on a completely separate topic." But it was still good, so I'm keeping it, but the original was much more choppy than the end result.

Thanks to everyone for making me feel special about this. I'll go back to actually writing about my "real life" now.

art said...

geez, i don't comment on one post, and the world's ending? well, it's great to know i'm appreciated...

so my church was repainting its basement, and we had some newspaper down to protect the floor. and i look down, and there i see a picture of the girard class of 06... how crazy chance is that? it's been a while since i've seen you, tj, so my guess is... you're fourth row from front, two thirds of the way from the left, wearing a white shirt? that's the closest face to what i remember seeing of you.

TJ said...

Yes, I think that was me.

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