I am writing you a graduating speech. Yesterday, my former seniors heard at least eight speeches about how they were graduating. I think they figured it out when they arrived at the auditorium in their caps and gowns with their tassels on the right side of their heads. I don’t need to write my seniors a speech about how they are at the end of one chapter of their lives and are heading into another one.
But you might need a letter telling you about what you are receiving.
I guess, you should take this as a letter of recommendation.
So, here goes.
To Whom It May Concern (otherwise known as the World Entire):
You are receiving a collection of seventeen/eighteen year olds (with a possible small collection of individuals younger than seventeen and older than eighteen). They have gone through their thirteen year (possibly plus or minus) of private and public education. They have taken scores of battery exams, state required tests, teacher generated tests, and the rigorous trials of adolescence to prove that they are competent adults ready to enter the adult world.
They are a bit untried and untested. They might be able to solve rigorous mathematics equations, discuss the social commentaries in abstract works of literature, and debate the moral ambiguity of the United States being a global force of justice when the concept of justice might be dependent on moral and ethical codes foreign to the United States. But, in the end, they are still babies.
Now, many of those students who have just graduated are likely objecting to this description. They are graduates of high school. They certainly do not need their blankets or “binkies.” Many of these young people have experienced far more tragedy than I have, and I am over double their age.
But their experiences are still within the vacuum of a short lifespan that is void of reflection and experience simply because their stepping stones are still covered in handprints that are the size of a small child and whose fingerprints are not missing whorls or lines because of burns or scars. Their love lines are shallow and deep because their loves are quick and passionate and burn brilliantly and quickly and then will fall into ash just as quickly.
Yesterday, I read their names to the their parents, to the faculty and staff who have nurtured these incredible people for the last four years. I read their names to a television camera that will record this for posterity even though I made a few mistakes that I wish were not permanently recorded. Most of all, I read their names to you, an announcement that they are joining the global population and are getting ready to change you.
You see, world, you have been living for a long time on a thesis and philosophy of destruction…if not self-destruction. And the students who graduated yesterday and have shed their shells and skins of childhood to become part of your general population, well, they are joining the years of other spectacular young people (some of whom might not think they are young but are still young in comparison to me) who have walked through my life and are now walking with you. And all of these young people have more goodness in them than you have destruction.
They are, collectively, such a force of good that you might just want to stop this cycle of grief and destruction and take a step back and just watch. Because walking amongst you with voices and knowledge and courage and dignity and integrity and honesty and respectability are fabulous people who can and will change you.
But they are still young. The stained glass chrysalis pods from which they have emerged are still a bit damp with the waters of baptism and change. And I charge you, now, not to pull out your blunt knives that you think will help cut the cords and enable these children to walk amongst you upright and ready to rumble.
If you think that you are more powerful than these children, that’s fine. I’m right beside them. And in the last twenty years of teaching, I have shed a lot of my shyness and my desire to hide in the shadows. I still like the peace and quiet of my mountain where you can’t reach me.
But I have my voice. You heard it yesterday. It echoed off the metal rafters of a university auditorium. It bounced off the heavy clouds that punctuated the sky. It went and spoke to the stars and added new rhythms to the radio signals surging into the ends of an ever expanding universe.
I am not afraid to speak up for my graduates. Nor are they afraid to speak up for themselves. And, together, our voices are stronger than any evil you can cast at us.
I sort of broke a law the other day. I voiced my emotions to my students in a language of religion, and I am not ashamed. I told them that “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” And I do. Now, open your arms, world, and surrender to the goodness that is among you, within you, inside you.
They changed me for the better. They will do the same for you. Go into your chrysalis, World. Let go of the dun and grey stripes and speckles that are tiny malignant growths that have stained your skin. Let my former students do their work.
And when you emerge, weak and exhausted and fragile, they will gently unfurl your wings, rub warmth into your furthest extremities, and teach you how to fly.
I end this letter with my highest recommendations for the class of 2015.