The senior class at my high school voted me as the teacher they wanted to give the keynote address at their graduation. Here are my speaker notes/transcript of my speech. I’m placing it here as several scholars and parents asked if I would make it available to them…so, here it is:
Uplift Luna High School
May 24, 2019
Before I begin my address to the Luna Class of 2019,
I’d like to take a moment to say “thank you” to all the parents.
While that is customary at events like these,
I’d like to stress to each of you that I deeply appreciate the trust you’ve placed in us as educators.
You send your children, your most precious gifts, into our hands every school day for nearly 8 hours.
I hope I have been a person who is worthy of that trust.
So, parents, thank you so much for trusting us with those you love so much.
And, to the Class of 2019,
I am honored to have been chosen by you to represent the faculty today.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?
This whole thing started when I was the least-qualified Web Tech teacher in the world
and you were downloading movies from Russia instead of building your web sites.
Over the last three years, we’ve talked about what it means to live a good life,
We prepped for the ACT,
We’ve written and re-written and re-written personal statements,
We read novels together,
We checked portals,
We entered CAS hours,
We experienced college acceptances and rejections,
and we’ve made our beds.
As a group, you made room in your lives for a middle-aged, former punk rocker
who was trying to find out what the next phase of his life would look like.
And, frankly, because of you, that next phase looks like I’ll be at Luna for the foreseeable future.
You have changed my life in profound ways.
And I have a tattoo you designed that will remind me every day of that.
Now, as you go forth from here, you have the chance to change the lives of others,
and your world,
in profound ways.
There is much in this world that needs to be changed.
You could simply accept the world the way it is, play it safe, and walk a well-worn path to what others call success…
or you can make the decision now to shake things up.
We have a long history of admiring those who shake things up.
We know their names: people like Cesar Chavez, Muhammed Ali, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollack, Bob Dylan, Max Mills…
I could go on, but you get the point.
We rarely remember the names of people who played it safe. We don’t need more imitators and followers. We need more originals.
Hopefully, at this point, you’re asking “How do we shake things up in the world? What does it look like for us?”
I have a few ideas, and keep in mind that you’ll have to make some personal changes in your behavior.
First, make the decision to create, rather than consume.
How many text messages, Instagram stories, hours of video games or binge watching another season of The Office does it take to make your life complete?
The time you spend consuming social media or online gaming or streaming takes you away from creative pursuits, not to mention you won’t have any real life engagement with other people.
You have let me into your lives and told me your stories which helped me create a better story for my life.
You can certainly influence future roommates and classmates and campuses.
So, go your separate ways and tell your story and listen to the stories of others.
The only way to do that is life on life, never on a screen. Use your cell phones and laptops as little as possible.
Also, when you’re using your screen, I’ll remind you that you generally aren’t creating anything.
The world needs your paintings and photography,
your short stories,
your mathematical innovations.
You are one of the most creative classes ever to come through Luna.
We know what you’re capable of,
and it borders on criminal to waste your brain power watching videos of people slapping cheese on babies’ foreheads.
If you want to change the world you’ll have to live a lifestyle that people will want to emulate…
live a deeper, better life. That doesn’t happen on cell phones or laptops.
The second way you can shake things up is both simple and complicated: Be more loving.
I’ve told you before that in a world that is so polarized, the most punk rock thing you can do is to choose to be loving…especially when others around you aren’t kind.
In fact, this has been modeled by the faculty. There have been some days when your behavior caused us to want to light you on fire…but we didn’t, not only because it’s illegal but because we care about you.
Because I know this to be true: You are loved.
Every one of you graduates can look on this stage and know that at least one of these teachers truly loves you.
Not every high school graduate can say that.
This world needs more people who ask the question, “What is the most loving thing that I can do right now?”
Oh, and yes,
Sometimes the most loving thing can be to stand against the status quo and protest the system.
Malcolm X and Dr. King were doing the most loving thing they could do for the world, even if it that love took very different forms.
Love doesn’t always have to polite and can often be difficult
and often requires great personal sacrifice.
But strive to think through what the most loving thing truly is in any given moment.
So, when you think about it, our time together, well, the days have been long but the years have been short.
And really, all the things I said in this speech,
and our lives together these last few years,
can be summed up with this statement:
“Be better, my dear muppets. Stop the shenanigans and live wisely, so you can experience shalom.”
But I don’t want those to be my last words to you as your teacher. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and these are what I want to be my last words to you:
You have made my life better
and will always be as close to me as the ink in my skin.
You have helped me write a better story than the one I was living,
and I’m so thankful to have walked this part of the journey with each of you.
Know that I love you.
Congratulations, Class of 2019.
Now, get out there and have some fun.