I didn’t know until just now that ‘valediction’ is the proper word for “saying goodbye.” It’s the opposite of salutation.
Which becomes doubly weird when you think about the concepts for valedictorian and salutatorian. I suppose one was originally supposed to speak at the beginning of the graduation service, and one at the end.
On this date several years ago, I was the one on the end. I’m a total sucker for coincidences of dates. I graduated May 25 and it was a Friday, so I think this is really awesome.
Anyway, here’s what I said.
To the board of education, Mr. Hicks [the soon-to-be-ingloriously-ousted principal], [my high school] Administrators, Distinguished Platform Guests, family, friends, and the graduating class of [not very long ago], welcome. As Mr. Hicks would say, I have 180 seconds to address you.
I begin today with a poem that my mother found in a high school yearbook.
I will tell you, young tree,
That you will quake
When you must leave a familiar
Forest home and reach high to
Your limbs will ache
for companions to
bleach the darkness and
shine like the sun.
In bitter, killing loneliness,
Your soul may ache.
You have roots
no one can kill.
When you are distressed
Feed on this
And you will always
For us, the graduating class of [not very long ago], high school is our roots. Our teachers, our peers and of course, Mr. Hicks, will be the foundation to which we can return throughout our lives for stability and for sustenance. For the past four years, we have learned and we have grown in the “forest” of [our school], nurtured by the roots of our teachers and our principal. Now, at the end of our high school careers, we are to leave our familiar forest home and reach high to bright places. Even though, at times, it will be difficult to be on our own, we will always be able to draw on the roots which we’ve established here—to remember the lessons which we’ve learned, whether these lessons are academic or otherwise. With this strong foundation, we can be prepared to grow to new heights. The foundation of [our] High School cannot be replaced in our memories. [Our school] will be the spring to which we may return whenever winter lurks outside of our doors. I thank you, Mr. Hicks, and I thank all of our teachers for providing the strong foundation for the rest of our lives, the foundation which has supported us throughout high school, and will continue to support us now. Under your guidance and tutelage, we have learned to form our own opinions and thoughts. With your help, we have gained abilities, skills and confidence.
Armed with these thoughts, skills and with our confidence, we, the graduating class of [not very long ago], step out into the world. We have been prepared with our roots and now we set out to test these roots. The future is uncertain, of course, but we will always be able to remember this time in our lives. The footing which we’ve established here will provide for our futures. From this point on, we have a new beginning. As we go our separate ways, we will always have our common . . . experience to draw upon. The strong support for our lives which we’ve established throughout our high school careers will remain with us and help us as we pursue other careers. We are now ready to continue in our lives. Our time in the forest has come to an end, and we are ready to stretch our branches in the bright sunlight, and to see what we make of our roots.
That’s all I have. I usually leave the closing (the valediction) unwritten so I can say something I really mean, like, thank you for helping us establish our roots and to the graduating class of not very long ago, grow.
Now, not so very many years later, I realize that the vast majority of the graduating class there weren’t really prepared for whatever was coming next (although I think my friends in the advanced program were pretty well prepared for the college workload!). Looking back, I really doubt that some of my high school classmates used anything they learned in class ever again.
But that was my school. How do you remember high school (aside from the socially awkward phase only to be rivaled by middle school)?