Good evening to everyone who’s gathered here today, and congratulations to my fellow members of the class of 2013. Four years ago, we stepped into the halls of this high school, and into the next phase of our lives. High school held promises of newfound maturity, responsibility, and discovery, and, while it may have been hard to see those changes in the day to day drudgery of life, it is clear that, looking back, we have grown up. We’ve learned the lessons, we’ve taken notes like dutiful scribes, and we’ve passed the tests, and failed a few too, of course. We’ve done what was expected of us.
And now, we are poised to move onto the next phase of our lives, and we have no idea what’s expected of us. Of course we don’t know the details of choosing classes and a major, finding a new group of friends, and taking complete responsibility for our studies. But this next phase is so much more than that. We’re about to become adults. Or at the very least, move closer towards adulthood. And that’s scary.
None of us really know what it’s like to have so much freedom, to be so on our own, to go about the business of constructing a life, to try to find a purpose or a direction for our existence. These have, for us, always been vague concepts on a very distant horizon. And now they’re about to become real issues. I think, though, this is where a high school education comes in.
I’m sure all of my classmates have thought, at least once in the past four years, “when are we going to use any of this in the real world?” It was a common refrain in childhood, but as we’ve grown older, it has become more of an implicit challenge to our teachers: “try to teach us something useful.” We’ve started to realize that some of the information we gain in class may not be very applicable in our lives. If you want to be a business major, for example, then maybe you’ll have some use for physics knowledge, and maybe not. But that doesn’t matter. High school is not about sheer utility. Rather, it is about exposure to the world at large. In our four years here, we’ve glimpsed a tiny fraction of all the knowledge and potential that the world has to offer, and, assuming we’ve managed to stave off cynicism, we have learned that there’s still so much more to see.
We can look deeper, though. When are we going to use this in the real world? The answer to that, I think, is entirely up to you. If you want to take the details of the cell cycle that you learned in bio and run with it to find some cure for cancer, then do so. If you’re inspired enough by some poem you read in English to try your hand at writing yourself, then God speed. But you don’t have to do that, of course.
Maybe you’ll get a good job, one that requires a college degree, and pays well, and has absolutely nothing to do with DNA or Keats or anything else you learned about in high school. There will still be boredom, and busywork, and moments where you wonder if what you’re doing has any purpose at all, if there’s any application. The novel sheen of adult life will have worn off, and you’ll just be left with yourself. It is at this moment that you must look back to that biology class and marvel at the improbable genetic tree that started way back in the nether regions of time and ends at you. It is at this moment that you must look back to that day in English where you read “Prufrock,” and realize that there is time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions.
It is even at that moment, I think, that you must look back to those days spent amidst the usual crush of pointless drama, to the sea of hormones and teenage angst, and find the humanity that is and has been around you every day. If that’s not enough to make you appreciate life’s intangibles—the sunny afternoons, the good company, even the simple joy of the paycheck—then you’re doing it wrong.
But is any of this going to help us with the hard realities of becoming an adult human being? Not having gone through the process myself, I can’t say. But I hope it does. I hope I can look back, years from now, and remember how I felt at this very moment, standing in front of you all, ready to step off into the unknown. I hope I can know that there was a time when I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I hope that I can remember how wonderful that luxury was. I hope that, in the trenches of adult life, I can retain the ability to stop for a minute and appreciate the moments of passing transcendence all around me. I hope I can stand on the other end of adulthood, and look back, and see my younger self—naïve maybe, but also expectant, and also hopeful. And I hope you all can too. Thank you.