Different Journeys

Different Journeys

Hello parents, teachers, distinguished guests, and hello Class of 2013. Let’s congratulate ourselves on graduating from the best public high school in Alexandria! But before I start, I’d like to give a brief shout-out to the TC Drama Department, because: in the past three years out of the six Valedictorians and Salutatorians, five have been with the drama department. Charlotte was one of our theatre critics, I act, last year’s Valedictorian was a director and the past two Salutatorians were actors. Administrators and school board members, perhaps you should take note.

I’d also like to briefly apologize to some of my friends, who expect my speech to be quite irreverent and silly. I’m sorry to say it ended up being much more serious than I expected it to. It was really an accident. I’m sorry.

Now I’m sure this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for — you have the privilege of hearing one of your peers go on for far too long talking about life, and wisdom, and purpose, things I clearly know a lot about with all my years of experience. I get to sit up here on this stage; I get to walk first; I get to stand at this podium and give a speech just because I barely have the highest GPA in the class.

What does that entitle me to say?

Nothing, really.

Why would I be any more seasoned; any more experienced; any more qualified to give advice? Just because I’ve taken more AP classes? Given my background, my success isn’t impressive — I had many advantages. I am the privileged white male son of two intelligent and well-off urban lawyers, and I have managed to do well in school. Imagine that! There are many people in this school who are much more motivated than me; more driven than me. There are many people who have overcome greater challenges than me.

At Senior Awards Night, I zoned out and quietly chatted with friends as one does, until I started hearing the speakers for the ELL Awards. I heard some really inspirational stories, including one guy who has cared for his siblings from age 11 and who personally made the decision to immigrate to the US. Some here today came to the U.S. with almost no understanding of English, and still managed to do incredibly well academically. That is more impressive and admirable than my AP count.

My GPA, maybe, is higher than theirs; but that doesn’t matter. Tenacity and a determination to succeed and advance will serve as a much better prediction of success. Upper-middle class white kids with higher GPAs might fail miserably later in life because we lack any sort of experience dealing with truly difficult and trying circumstances, or have slacked our way through high school and college relying solely on natural intelligence. Students from lower-class families, or immigrants, or the children of immigrants might be remarkably successful later in life because they refuse to give up.

So for some of us, graduation might mean very little in the grand scheme of things. Graduation for some of us might represent an insignificant and easily achieved goal, which we’re only passing by. But for others, graduation is incredibly significant. It is a symbolic and literal end of a chapter of life, and it gives recognition for hard work and effort. So, again, congratulations to the entire Class of 2013 for graduating; thank you.