As many of you may know, my last days as a Shanksville-Stonycreek High School senior were less than enjoyable. A decision regarding a certain situation caused my privilege of being able to speak at the commencement ceremony as the Salutatorian to be revoked. However, many people have encouraged me to share my speech via the interweb, and although it is more than a couple of weeks behind schedule, here it is. Entitled, “TBD – To Be Determined.”
I’m sure many of you may be wondering what the reasoning was behind the title of my speech. It’s not exactly a run-of-the-mill commencement speech title. The reason is actually two-fold. It is partly because I wrote this speech on Sunday. When Miss Natalie asked me last week what the title was, I told her it was “to be determined.” But it also conveniently worked with what I wanted to convey to my classmates.
There is a time for everything. Each stage in life calls for a different reaction. This monumental occasion is a time for reflection, but more importantly, a time to look forward. Melissa reminisced and wove a wonderful tale of our time spent in this sleepy little town. She somehow managed to condense countless hours of instruction and socialization into a compact little message. My speech, however, covers a much larger area; one that is practically unknown to all of us. It’s a large gray area known as the future.
The Class of 2014 stands here today as blank slates, 12 years in the making. We’ve been shaped and molded by the hands of those who love and care for us, both Earthly and Divine. And as of late, we have all heard one question dozens of times, that question being, “have you decided yet?” Teachers, elders, and family members have all meant well when they posed this question to us, but I believe that there is a gap in understanding between soon-to-be high school graduates and people who have lived for years in the “real world.” I think they forget what it’s like to be 18 and not have a clue what you’re supposed to do in life. Perhaps the feelings of uncertainty that I know all of us are feeling right now are masked behind fronts of bravado, because apparently being unsure of our life plans is seen as not okay.
No one is ever fully aware and prepared for all the unknown factors that are bound to come our way. So the question I want to ask the audience is, how many of you have changed career paths or plans at least once from graduating high school? How many of you changed your majors in college, or even decided college wasn’t for you? The point I am trying to make is that very few people know exactly what they are destined to go into after graduation. And that’s okay! People are not supposed to know the schedule and timeline for the next 70 odd years of their lives. People change their minds, switch paths, even make 180 turns, and after all that they still aren’t done growing and morphing into better versions of themselves. Who’s to say that any of us are ever really done deciding what we’re supposed to do and who we’re supposed to be? It’s all to be determined.
There is a reason the term “living” is in the present tense. It’s important to remember that living is done by being fully in the moment each and every day of our lives. Don’t grasp your memories from Shanksville with such a tight grip that you become locked in the past. But also don’t spend the coming years pining away for a future that you’re not actively attempting to make a reality.
Our time at Shanksville has hopefully given us the time to grow into strong-willed, independent-thinking individuals capable of making tough decisions and prioritizing our goals. My hope for all of you is that you are able to remember our years together with fondness, but be able to move on and start a new life after we all go our separate ways.
In the midst of me sharing these short life mantras, please don’t think I have all the answers, because believe me, I don’t. I don’t have an abundance of insightful advice to offer that will somehow make the next stage of our lives easy to comprehend. But I do know one thing, things have a way of working themselves out, given time. And we’re all going to be okay. I promise.
To conclude, what commencement speech would be complete without an inspiring quote? Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated:
“To laugh often and much;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.”
Class of 2014, it’s been the ride of a lifetime. I wish all of you the best of luck. Thank you.