Mandatory fun — Taking wing: a graduation speech (2014)


I’m really posting this by request of my students, so if you’re one of my regular readers I hope you’ll forgive my indulging them. It didn’t come off as well as I had imagined — the mic was shaking the entire time — but at least my knees didn’t buckle. I had fun watching them tonight, and despite my protests, I fear that I will, indeed, miss this group — white noise miss.

SRs of 2014: you will notice which bits got cut, I think. This is the original scripted version that I cut on the spot tonight when it just seemed too much. Anyway, I hope it was what you wanted, or at the very least that you remember Ms. H’s one and only piece of advice — right after the thing about redefining success.’-) Be safe, be well, and keep in touch. ~LD

Taking Wing

Whan that April with hes shoures soote, the drought of March hath perced to the roote — Just kidding.

It’s been so long since I’ve stood in front of people and said an “important thing” on purpose. I think it was about two and a half weeks ago. But it’s different in room 211. Here there be others – administrators, parents, siblings, my esteemed colleagues. =) In room 211 we can be more “a gusto” so, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t seem quite myself.

But, I am honored beyond breath that you invited me to take you as a captive audience one last time. I figure the nervousness must be reasonable retribution.

And for all of you who came out tonight to celebrate the Seniors of 2014, known quietly, and among certain circles as one of CAT’s “golden generations”, please bear with us, and me, while I drag us (some more willingly than others) to the end of the road we started together way back in August of 2013.

Do please be sure you’re speaking in English. Please be sure the people around you are speaking in English – still kidding.

* * *

The plan, back in August of 2013, was to send you away with the usual things — Beowulf and Chaucer and Shakespeare, maybe some writing skills if we could manage them. At that moment I couldn’t predict what we would face together and much less what I would want to you to know, especially since I’m not the world’s most consistent model of “how to be”.

Since then, I’ve read thousands of pages (I’m pretty sure this is not hyperbole), of your thoughts, experiences, and interpretations of what you’ve read and what you’ve lived. Knowing a bit about you from your pages, I think I want to tell you what I wish I had had a grown up friend – one I would actually listen to — to tell me when I was sitting in chairs similar to the ones you’re sitting in now, anxious to get started with REAL LIFE – There are a million things on that list (and you KNOW I don’t give advice), but I think all of the million are built around just this one thing: GO SLOW.

Sometimes, I’m a little jealous of your high school experience, I don’t really remember my senior year in high school – I know that I worked, went to track practice and track meets, went to debate practice and debate tournaments, spent too much time with my socially unacceptable boyfriend, and generally filled my days with so much activity that I fell into bed unconscious rather than asleep at night. I was busy trying to forget that high school and that phase of my life had ever existed. I KNOW that for the most part your high school experience has not been like mine was. But, you’ve made yourself do a lot of running, by not giving yourself the time you needed to do things walking. Do I need to insert the word “procrastination” here? You’ve had your share of problems with life and problems with school, but you’ve had some fun and made some friends along the way – keep having fun and making friends, just slower.

*GO SLOW: From here on in the “problems” get harder“, more real, and with more lasting consequences; you will need time to think through situations and people and opportunities. People — your friends, your professors, your family, sometimes even you – will want you to hurry up and be, hurry up and do, or hurry up and decide. My experience has been that there are almost always at least 24 hours in which to make up your mind about virtually everything no matter how urgent it may seem.

Quick story: After I finished my masters – about the time you started nursery school (maternal) — I really struggled to find a job. I worked five part time jobs to pay the bills. Life was hard. I was frustrated. One day, I got an email from a friend offering me a job in another country. In the time it took to read and respond to her email (which even in 1999 was pretty fast) I made a decision. The decision was a good one for me over the long term, and I am deliriously happy with how my life has turned out, but the way I made the decision, not thinking it through even a little bit had some disastrous consequences in my relationships. If I had taken a breath, and slept on it, talked to the people I cared about, I might have salvaged some of those relationships, even if my decision was the same.

Twenty-four hours is a long time to think about a thing and think about it well. MAKE time to think if you have to, but go slow, think, and breathe.

So, GO SLOW. Feel the sand between your toes. Stroll leisurely through love, studying, decision-making, every struggle and every experience (you can’t imagine how amazing those adventures will be!) — do everything as if it were all a Sunday walk on the beach during vacation. Feel what you feel in the moment you feel it. Be in love when you’re in love – it doesn’t happen as often as you think. Be happy when your budget goes all the way to the quincena AND you unexpectedly get to go for ice cream (or a movie or whatever treat it is that has become a luxury). Be sad when love or friendship slips away. Feel strong when you keep going even though your heart is a little bit broken. Be angry or frustrated when life seems to spin out of your control. You will find the way to get things back on track more easily if you can see and feel and be present in your life every moment.

Look, all the things are going to happen – you will study university and have a degree (or more than one), you’ll have a job and live entirely from your own efforts, you’ll pay your bills, take care of your house or apartment, do your own laundry, cook your own meals (even if it’s just maruchan), have a pet whose LIFE you are responsible for by yourself. You will fall madly in love with the exactly right person, and buy a house, get married (if that’s what you decide to do) and have kids (if that’s what you decide to do), – and all those things will happen regardless of what speed you go, and they will happen whether you are ready for them or not. It is awesome to be going slow enough to notice the WONDER of their happening, like a smile from a stranger on the street.

GO SLOW step away from the screen sometimes, on purpose, just to walk down the sidewalk and look people in the eye and smile – tell them good morning. Put your phone, your ipod, your tablet away (and silence it) when you are with people who matter, or when you are blowing bubbles just for fun. Callers will wait for you to return their call or message when you are ready to check back in. Be gentle with yourself if you look around and see that sometimes you’ve gone too fast.

GO SLOW because, even if you DO go slow, it will feel like only a few minutes have passed when you are sitting out there where those nice people are, watching your own kids graduate from high school.

I would have liked to have this talk come up more naturally, at a carne asada, with some good food,, some good music, and good conversation, but you asked me to be HERE, to say this one last thing as “your teacher.” That’s part of my job. One of the easy parts of my job.

As a matter of fact,

the hardest part of my job isn’t NOT getting to have this talk at a carne asada, nor is the hardest part of my job reading and commenting on 10,000 Think Pieces every Friday night, or grading student essays, or dealing with all the administrative things. Not even saying “hasta la vista” tonight is the hardest thing about being a teacher for me.

No, the hardest thing about being a teacher is knowing that when I walk into class in mid-August, the faces before me will not be the beloved faces, these faces, that I have come to know over the past ten fleeting months.

By August, you will have flown afield, and will have left Room 211 filled with the scent of your feathers. Fly far and wide and fearless. I will build new wings with the feathers you leave in your wake. I love you guys.

Thanks for a great year.


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