Lenox Memorial High School - Class of 2000 - Valedictorian Speech


Well, here we are, 35 minutes away from the real world. I've been told that it's tradition for the valedictorian of a high school class to get up and say a few deep thoughts about life, but I got nothing. For one thing, I'm only eighteen, and so I don't have a whole lot of life to talk about. For another thing, this is Lenox, a town so small that we have a graduating class of 59. It's all I can do to find my way around Boston and there are whole continents out there I've only ever seen on a map in Global Studies. I don't know who got the idea that point-oh-three points on a GPA means that I'm any more qualified to talk about life than anybody else in my class. You all should know a lot more about life because you've been out there living it for more than the past four years instead of being married to a textbook.

All of us in the class of 2000 have been in school for at least twelve years, and I've gotten kind of used to it. I never thought I'd make it this far, and now that it's over I'm in a weird state of "now what?" In my head there's always been a big black void of unexplored space where high school ends and the real world begins. I can't even begin to guess what I'll be doing in five years. I don't know if I'll stay in college or who I'll marry or where I'll end up living. I feel like I'm driving in the dark with no lights on and I can't see where the next turn is or if I'm going to crash. While that's kind of scary, it's also pretty thrilling.

Tomorrow, when we wake up, we won't be high school kids anymore. We won't have teachers or administrators telling us when to line up and how to act, and we won't have a bell telling us where to be every forty-three minutes. Starting tomorrow, we can choose to be whoever we want. We don't have to take the easy way out of anything, or settle for a life that we don't really want. We live in a free country, and we have the freedom to choose our careers, our partners, our friends, our towns, and our futures. No one has the right to choose them for us.

Everyone in this class has unlimited potential. No one can even guess at what we can accomplish in the next seventy years. We can go out there and make the world into whatever we want. We are not kids anymore, we have our own ideas on how to run our lives and how to run the planet. We have worked hard to get to where we are, and we can't sell ourselves out to become just another brick in the wall. We are better than that, and we deserve better. We are more than what fits on a high school transcript or a college resume, and our potential is not defined by our SAT scores.

If evolution has taught us anything, it's that we, as the newest generation to go off into the adult world, have the potential to be better, smarter and stronger than all generations before us, so we don't have to make the same mistakes that others have made. Two weeks ago we set up lounge chairs in the school lobby and did a Conga line to Tuvan music in the halls because it was fun. The fun of life is the most important thing, and we can't let the real world get in the way of that.

Sure, I'm just a kid, and I don't know anything about the world. From what I've read and from what people have told me, it can be a pretty harsh place to survive. I don't want to forget the dreams I have now and lose who I am just because I'm an adult now. We can get whatever we want out of life as long as we remember what we want. We can get more out of life than simply existing. We don't have to spend our lives in jobs that don't mean anything to us. We all have passions, things which give us more joy than anything, dreams which wake us up in the middle of the night and make us truly alive. We can't sacrifice these dreams for the life that someone else tells us every American should want.

And we don't have to know what our dreams are yet. We don't ever have to know. We can change our minds a hundred times about where we're going to live, what we're going to do and who we're going to be. If our entire lives were planned by the time we were twenty there would be no adventure in it. A lot of people out there are too scared of the unknown to leave jobs or towns or lives that don't fulfill them, but we can do better. We have the guts to stand up for what we believe in, we are strong enough to screw the easy way and to risk everything for those passions that drive us. Recently, I read a quote in an elevator, saying "You would not have been given the capacity to wish for something if you were not also given the ability to achieve it. You may, however, have to work for it."

We are the class of 2000. We are the youth of the world. From what Nathan has told us, we are the best hope of Earth. We are also the best hope for ourselves. I realize that it's hard enough to get us all together for a class meeting, but if we do have a reunion in forty years or so, I hope we will all be able to tell each other what a great time we've had with our lives. We should all be able to look back on all the jobs we've held and all the children we've raised and all the places we've lived, and we should be able to say that we have lived the greatest adventures possible, and that we led our lives for us. I know that we'll all get out there in thirty minutes and show the world that the Lenox High School Class of 2000 will never forget who we are, what we want, and what we can do with the great adventure of the real world.

Over the course of four years, our lockers have been filled with a lot of heavy books with a lot of dead authors saying some really deep things. I'm sure that Mr. Hurley would have a lot to tell us right now about chance and fate and great odysseys we all face, but I think the most stellar advice about life comes from that classic Bill and Ted movie: "Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes!"

*send thoughts to little red*
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