Good morning everyone. I would like to begin by welcoming all esteemed faculty, parents, alumni, friends, and guests to the Commencement of the Class of 2019. I am both honored and humbled to be standing before such an impressive class today. Truthfully, my track record while on stage in front of a crowd is less than impressive… The last time was the Middle School Spelling Bee where I misspelled “software” in the first round, so thank you for giving me a chance at redemption. I would also like you all to know, for the record, that I now know it is soft-w-a-r-e and not soft-w-e-a-r after four years at this great institution.
In looking for ideas and inspiration, I did what any Gen Z kid would do and went straight to YouTube. I was met with a host of humorous takes on existing clichés. There is of course nothing wrong with clichés; in the words of Jack Kerouac (and Mrs. Sheehan I guess we are even now because you beat me to him. And Lord knows how Jack Kerouac of all people ended up in both Baccalaureate and Commencement) but he said: “Clichés are truisms and all truisms are true”. My problem with this sort of speech was not necessarily these banal platitudes, but rather the production of humor. Many of my classmates and teachers that were graced by my presence in their classes know that I possess the unique ability to tell jokes that are solely funny to me. Essentially, the lack of humor isn’t a choice… and because Mr. Kirschner has taken every single good quote, it looked like I was on my own. Although the task was daunting, I knew I was well prepared. The most obvious route to proceed on was to reflect upon our successes as a class, but the list is seemingly endless: we dominated academic challenges, athletic competitions, and arts expeditions, making Canterbury reputable and feared in each domain. To make note of each we would be here all day, and who am I, the kid that couldn’t put this gown on without Mrs. Cross’ help, to stand in the way of everybody’s lunch reservations.
Instead, I would like to focus on the aforementioned preparation - how what we have learned as a class is enough to propel us to excellence. So, what have we learned? I know that, of course, what immediately jumps into your heads are things like how Richard Wilbur used formal elements to reveal the speaker’s response to the death of a toad (although I don’t think I’ve figured it out yet), the equation of photosynthesis, and that the steamboat was invented by a certain Robert Fulton. Of course, material knowledge is pinnacle to a superior education and I want parents to know that, yes, we did go to class, but I'd like to highlight what we learned together outside of the class.
So, what did we learn? We learned how to be a member of a community. That when we work together we succeed, or in our case, win homecoming week this year. From being in a class of under 75, we learned that debate and discourse are dependant on the quality of what we say and not the volume of our voices. We faced each other every day and realized that we can disagree without being disagreeable. We learned the importance of supporting members of our community - of showing up to encourage the hard work of those around us and reciprocating the love and support that we receive. A perfect example of the necessity of a strong community happened in this very gym. Our boys' basketball team faced Gulliver Prep in an unprecedented 2:00 p.m. tipoff. Initially, the news devastated me. I was devastated that I would be missing calculus class and that I’d be late to soccer practice. But the boys made sure it was well worth it. Backed by a full gym of Cougars, the team came back from a 15-point deficit to defeat Gulliver Prep 65-61. And as if you needed any more reason to believe in the power of a supportive community after that strong testament, turn to the pyramid of success, which I’m certain you’ve all memorized, to find team spirit, friendship, and loyalty.
What did we learn? We learned that challenges, although difficult by their very nature, present an opportunity to grow. The last four years have been filled with students rising to the occasion on the biggest stages: international science fair, state finals, or state thespians to name just a few. Whether we achieved victory which, with this group, happened well over a majority of the time, or we fell short, we realized that failure represents a chance to come back and it is a detour, not a permanent defeat. At Senior Beach Day after losing three straight games of tug-of-war, our team, rope-burned hands and all, did not bury our heads in the sand, but instead prepared for the fourth (and the results of that match don’t matter so I won’t bother sharing them but rather note the tenacity of the group). As a class, we learned that when we did triumph, the size of the accomplishment was largely dependant on the size of the challenges overcome. The memorable sporting events were not the 8-0 halftime mercy rule games, and the memorable grades were not Flinn Safety Contract guaranteed one hundreds (but thank the Lord for them). It is the process and struggle, be it the hours put in or the wounds inflicted, that create meaning and greatness, so never stop challenging yourselves.
What did we learn? We have learned to be bold and enthusiastic. We have only heard a hundred times that “nothing great has ever been accomplished without enthusiasm” but it is certainly true and worth repeating, and sometimes this enthusiasm is more important than capability. Where I have seen this to be incredibly true is at the dances. I speak for myself and a conservative 80 percent of the class when I say that we are a stiff bunch. There are a few notable exceptions… Jorge can move. But, the point we are not afraid to dance, and that makes all the difference, it makes prom and homecoming fun. We see this phenomenon all the time in the real world as well. There is a reason why President Trump’s “low energy Jeb Bush” nickname stuck like glue. Without enthusiasm, we are relegated to mediocrity and ordinarity, or in Jeb’s case, we become unelectable.
What did we learn? We learned that we don’t have to go far to find inspiration. I am honored to say that I have been a part of this class, with each person embodying the tenants of our school. Each of you has demonstrated your capacity to achieve greatness and have inspired me to be kinder, more thoughtful, and more purposeful. We have been role models to those younger than us and those older than us alike. Whether it is serving this great nation as a member of the United States Navy, coping with loss or sickness in our school family, overcoming adversity that confronts us daily, defying expectations people may associate with a class of our size, sacrificing your own health for the good of a team, or dominating the scooter portion of the homecoming week relay to initiate an unforgettable comeback, there is so much for us to be inspired by, and we bring out the best in each other.
The last thing we’ve learned is that some speakers drag on for way too long so I’ll wrap it up. The last things I want to tell you are that I am proud to call you my friends and proud that I can forever say that I was apart of this great class. Canterbury has helped to sow many seeds; some will lie dormant and some, when given the thought and attention, will blossom. It is upon you all, now, to decide what you will take from this education. My only advice is to keep cheering, keep dancing, keep challenging yourselves, and keep inspiring.