Ok, the following is my valedictory speech from high school. It was one of those "they made me do it, so I'm gonna make them regret it" things. Besides the fact that I managed to completely confuse the entire audience (with the exception of 4 people; those being 2 friends who've actually read most of the books I quoted and know how my mind works, 1 friend who helped me write it, and my AP English/Debate teacher, who I think would have understood what I was saying it I was speaking in Vogon.), I:
- had at least half the audience crying because of the one part that actually made sense to them,
- called the entire faculty failures and the students stupid with a quote just obscure enough that no one caught it, and
- quoted War and Peace, Issac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Linda Knight, Douglas Adams, Stalin, and The Bible (even though I'm pagan and the entire campus thought i was atheist) in one 3 minute speech.
- actually told everyone there that the answer to life the universe and everything is 42.
The part that scared me was that I got so many compliments that I got on it. I have to assume that it was only for two reasons
- my speech was short (our guest speaker talked for almost an hour) and
- I mentioned Josh.
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, steer a schooner, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, and die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
This was said by Robert Heinlein in Time Enough for Love, and should be remembered, especially by those of us headed for college. Another idea that will help us is that memories are important. Without knowing where you’ve been, it’s hard to know where your going, but the class of ’98 has a good memory and we know where we’ve been.
Memories are what make us each individuals; unless of course you think like Stalin and say that no one is an individual because anything he might do is a direct result of work done by others in the past. However, if a person is to make his best effort at being an individual, he must know as much about previous work as is humanly or otherwise possible. This means that he must strive to do everything possible with his store of knowledge and benefit the human condition. He must access the combined knowledge of centuries of scholars and researchers to come up with something worthy of the human race. And the more sources the better. After all, copying from one is plagiarism, but copying from many is research. If a person does not do this, he is like the unnamed soldier in War and Peace who says “Yes, Sir!” and then promptly marches off to battle and dies a cruel and needless death.
The main object of a High School education is to prevent this obscurity. Teachers and administrators are this nation’s only safeguard against the abyss of stupidity. “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain!” laments Asimov in The Gods Themselves. If the great deities of every pantheon in every age have striven toward this goal, we must appreciate the work done by teachers to fill this great void in the psyche of today’s youth. Not only this, but we, as students, must help to bridge this great Charcharoth of a gap. We must weave a great tapestry together in order to achieve our true potentials. The warp and the woof must be in unison, or all will be Chaos.
Yet once woven, the tapestry can only be undone by forgetfullness. It is imperative for each generation to strive for perfection in its own tapestry so that when it is time to aid our children in the making of their own, we may remember what it truly means to create and be created. Without these memories, we are not whole people; we are mere shells of our potential selves. We are not human. The very definition of human would be drastically altered if memory did not exist as we know it. Humanity is defined by its ability to remember the past and act upon all the stored knowledge brought by experience with educators, friends, loved ones…and most especially those we’ve lost. Beyond all the myriad knowledge they have shared with us through the years, one important thing they have taught us is how to say goodbye.
The class of ninety-eight should be good at that by now; we’ve said goodbye to so many through the years. Many we’ve kept in touch with, like Angela Arnold who left just this year. Others we haven’t done quite as well with… and others we couldn’t.
Not so long ago, we knew a boy by the name of Josh Barnwell. He was friendly, outgoing, and helped each one of us to become the people we are today. His memory lives on in us, and therefore he will never truly be gone. He is in our hearts, our minds…our souls. When he was taken from us in junior high, it hit us hard. We thought Old Man Death, with his square toes and flat face, only visited the elderly and the ill. Yet with his scythe, he had hewed down one of the friends we thought would be ther forever. The accident affected us all. It was a sad waiting to see, and even sadder knowing we wouldn’t see his bright smile again. In losing Josh, we gained knowledge. Ecclesiastes 1:18 says that “An increase in wisdom is an increase in pain; and an increase in knowledge is an increase in sorrow.” We learned that nothing is permanent.
But life does goes on, and we continue on its journey as we must. Now we have come to a place in the path where we must each choose our own fork and follow our own road, wherever it may lead. It’s time to say goodbye again. Josh was one of our strongest lessons in how to say goodbye and now we must put our lessons to use, parting this time in a much happier way; if there is such a thing as happy parting. Josh and everyone else who was ever a part of our class of ‘98 will always be a part of it, even if they don’t walk here tonight, because they are woven tightly into the tapestry in our hearts. But now we must bind the chord that finishes that tapestry; we must now tie-off the last strand to our childhood. In doing this, though, we should not forget those memories, we should treasure them. As said by Linda Knight:
"Hold fast to your memories,
To all of the cherished moments
Of the past,
To the blessings and the laughter,
The joys and the celebrations,
The sorrows and the tears.
They all add up to a treasure
Of fond yesterdays
That you shared and spent together,
And they keep the ones you loved
Close to you in spirit and in thought.
The special moments
And memories in your life
Will never change.
They will always be in your heart,
Today and forevermore."
Those memories will be most beneficial to us as we move on and decide what to do with our lives. One of the prime memories of our sojourn through life thus far, is the impression left by teachers that we need to find the answer to every question asked of us, or at least every question that we find worthy of an answer; and they have striven to give us the tools necessary for such a great endeavor. So here is one we can use, and should always remember: The Earth is mostly harmless, and the answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is only 42, so as is written on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Don’t Panic. So in the words of Douglas Adams, and the dolphins: “So long and thanks for all the fish.”