As we approach this year’s graduation, I wanted to offer the class of 2015 a reminder of the speech I gave a year ago. If you are not of the class of 2015, then here is some context: at nex+Gen Academy, where I teach, students choose a faculty speaker each year to speak at the Senior Honors Assembly, which happens a day or two before the actual graduation ceremony. Last year, I was the faculty member selected to speak. The opening comes from the fact that I ask the students all year, “What is your class again? 2016?”
Back to the class of 2015 – I would love to hear about your path to a substantive existence.
To the class of 2016….
Works every time. Every.single.time. But in deference to you, I’ll start over.
To the class of 2015!
And to the rest of you: it turns out that the faculty speaker is selected by the students in the graduating class, so I am up here, I’m pretty sure, out the fortune of one student asking me one day, “Mr. Gant, if you were the graduation speaker, would you use different accents?” To which I said, of course.
That means, I’d better deliver.
<Scottish accent> I intend to do three things while up here. One, as a sort of retrospective, I’d like to describe you all as a class. Two, I would like to give you some advice. And three, I’d like to do what I’ve done all year, and that is tell you what to do.
Perhaps I should have said that last part in a different accent: <Russian Accent> Three, I will tell you what you will be doing. You will not have choice. And you will enjoy it. <end Russian accent>
So: who are you?
The class of 2015 is one of contrasts and intensity. Let me illustrate.
I’m going to use an SAT word, so I’ll define it first: indignation: strong displeasure caused by something that is unfair, or wrong, or offensive.
I saw the most indignation from this class from two things:
First, when you all watched the rather sophomoric rants of Lenar Whitney in her campaign speech calling global warming a hoax.
The other time when I saw the most indignation was when you discovered that I hadn’t seen the movie, The Sandlot. I thought that Ryan A. was going to either punch me, or leave the classroom and cry. Ray S., in fact, made me borrow it, and watch it.
You have similar responses to a global environmental catastrophe, and a movie about 11 year olds.
Next word: ebullience – cheerful; full of energy.
I saw the most ebullience from this class with two different events. The first was when I heard this phrase: <very loudly> YYEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH!
That…. was as a result of winning a game of kickball.
But the second was the feeling in the building after so many of you had finished presenting your senior projects, just awesomely killing it.
Of course, at nex+gen, where you speak a lot, I’ve seen presentations from students that were the result of 3 weeks of practice, and other so-called presentations that were the result of 3 seconds of preparation.
This last example of 2015’s contrasts is a little different, though. It represents a choice, and it is a choice that’s not unique to you – it is a choice that all nexgen students have to make – you eventually come to a point when you ask yourself, “will I learn this material deeply enough to be truly educated, or will I just try to make my presentation sound good?”
In that moment, you face the dilemma of choosing between something of substance, or something made of meaningless words.
<English Accent> I mean, consider: Someone speaking in the most dynamic way to say something for which the esoterica does not reveal itself in the least, but yields to underlying, and simultaneous overlaying truths for which the truth testifies to the trueness of the content displayed in maximized efficiency in which, or for whosoever manifests the manifold perspective belying the obvious rationale precisely whence we offered the idea in the first place. <end English accent>
Did any of you understand what I just said? Me neither. I just strung a bunch of words together.
Even when I used big words, spoke confidently, and even used a British accent, there was still no connection with you, because there was no substance.
So here is the advice: as you get older, this choice between substance and making something look or sound nice is a dilemma that does not go away. You’re going to be confronted with this choice over and over, and how you resolve the dilemma will begin to define you.
As you go out into the world, where your voice must be heard, are you going to speak of substance, or are you just going to string together some words that don’t connect? And what are you going to do? Are you going to do something of substance, or are you going to just string together some random actions that have no purpose?
In the world of Twitter limiting thoughts to 140 characters, or Instagram that doesn’t even require words, and the internet that doesn’t really require that you actually move in order to acquire something, you are going to be tempted into thinking that those things are the substance in the world, because they are pretty or flashy and easy and everywhere.
But here is a tip: being a person of substance is rarely flashy or easy. It is hard work. It requires that you think carefully about what you are doing and why you are doing it. It requires that you make connections with others. It brings you to the realization that your fortune and privilege obligate you to help others. It requires perseverance that build confidence that you can get real work done.
Finally, we move into third part of inspirational speech, where I tell you what to do, and you have no choice. Remember, sitting for long periods of time is bad for you, so please, seniors, stand up.
(If necessary) No really, stand up. Come on…stand up!
Stand up, to withstand the temptation to go with only the easy and the flashy.
Stand up to start that long walk of perseverance.
Stand up, so that you can help others up, who might have difficulty lifting themselves.
Stand up, so that you can face your future with a smile, because you, you, have substance.
The faculty at nex+Gen gives our best to you all.
This blog originally appeared on Intrepid Ed