The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

Opinion & Letters to the Editor

June 9, 2014

Graduation speech revised: thoughts six years later

Monday, June 9, 2014 — When I graduated from high school in 2008, I had the opportunity to make a graduation speech.

I’ve been told it was good, (by more than just my family, I swear), but honestly I don’t remember much except a joke about the cafeteria’s notorious chicken sandwiches.

But with graduation right around the corner for many of our high schoolers, I decided I’d like to look at it again, to cringe or nod as my new experience dictates.

So with some help from my parents (aren’t you glad they save everything?), I was able to lay my hands on the little one sheeter.

This is the line that stuck out the most to me:

“I hope you’re burning for something more today. I hope that flame gets brighter every day. I hope that 10 years from now it’s a conflagaration and you’re glad you lit it in the first place.”

A bit starry-eyed, huh? I think when I wrote that I was aiming to be a best-selling author by 25; with one year to go, I think it’s safe to say I won’t meet that goal.

One of the smaller dissapointments, trust me.

You see, I’ve found out that fire burns. It hurts. Happiness is a fragile thing and flames, well, they destroy.

What I realize now is that I don’t mind.

I’m at peace with burns and smoke. It’s not happiness I’m after, it’s joy.

With that in mind, here’s what I’d say now:

So graduates, there you are. Facing the music (both literally and figuratively), “Pomp and Circumstance” calling you to that green football field with the inevitable pull of gravity.

Scared, relieved, fed up, excited. Everybody’s got a different way of looking at that march, that stage, that paper they hand you as you walk across.

(Symbolic scroll only, you know; the real thing is picked up at some inconspicuous back table or slipped into your mailbox when nobody is looking.)

Even you apathetic ones, unimpressed with baggy gowns and speeches that echo off bleachers, this moment is moving you, too, whether you admit or not. (An attitude is a choice after all.)

I will not be overly grandiose. That choice is not the first in a series of decisions that will define who you are (that started a long time ago). But maybe it’s the first time you’ve really thought about where those choices are taking you. The first measured glimpse of yourself as you could be.

My advice to you graduate: Stare it in the eye.

Because every choice has its consequence and every attitude has its sting.

Be scared and you’re always bound to another’s strength. Be relieved and you’ll find it’s never over. Be fed-up and you give up on possiblities. Be excited and you’ll find some things don’t live up to your expectations.

Realize that, graduate. Weigh the product against the price tag. What is it you want? What is it you’re willing to pay?

Because the biggest dangers you face now is becoming something you don’t want to be. It doesn’t matter where you’re going, college, job, marriage, the unknown, the slopes are always slick with easy and downhill is always the fastest way to go.

If you don’t take the time to look at yourself, you won’t even know if you’re sliding.

So stare it in the eye, graduate.

What do you see in yourself today? Who are you as you walk across that field, that stage?

If you fail a test (trust me, we all do), will you push harder?

If you take a job you don’t love (trust me, we all do), will you make plans for another?

If you find you don’t have time to get everything done (trust me, we all do), will you know what’s important and let the rest go?

Or will you just dither or mope when those decisions come. Ignore them until the moment is gone and you’ve lost the chance to prove yourself.

Because that’s what your choices are. The opportunity to prove yourself. Not to your parents, not to your peers, not to a boss or a company or a school (remember the actual diploma comes when nobody was looking), but to prove yourself to yourself.

A secret cruicible between you and God. To seize or to let go.

And so here’s your opportunity. A green football field, a stage. (An attitude is a choice after all.)

Stare it in the eye.

And then very consciously set one foot in front of the other (the first in a series that you now recognize as your own) and choose.

To submit story ideas, contact Shannon Beamon at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24 or at

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