Dr. Lawrence delivers address at Senior Dinner
Each year, our seniors choose a teacher to deliver a speech at the Senior Dinner. This year, they chose English teacher Dr. Lawrence. Here’s his talk:
I am deeply honored to be with you tonight. Right after I found out that I would be giving this speech, I talked with a couple of other teachers who have spoken at the senior dinner in the past, and their advice was half humor and half wisdom, which I thought was great. Once I sat down to start writing, though, I realized I was in trouble because I am not all that wise or that funny.
I knew I had to write something, so I figured I would go with the surefire method for figuring something out when you don’t know what you are doing–Google. So I Googled “advice for seniors” and got some great responses…here you go. Lots of fiber and supportive, comfortable shoes. Google also said that I should repeat it and say it loud and clear, so LOTS OF FIBER AND SUPPORTIVE SHOES.
In all seriousness, when Mr. Spedding told me that I had 45 minutes to help you reflect on your educational experience at Keystone, to consider your social and emotional development over the years, and to–hang on…what’s that? Oh–he says four TO five minutes…not 45 minutes to inspire and motivate you–because we all know that students always remember the speeches at events like this one forever, word for word, and often alter their entire outlook on life because of what is said in a speech like this one–I developed a long list of the most important things I want to say to you as you go off to college and into the world. However, because brevity is the soul of wit [thank you, Polonius], I will instead give you my top ten.
10. Be original–find your own voice. Our world at this moment is full of people who retweet or repost or copy and paste. Don’t just imitate what other people have said and done. You find something to say from within yourself!! Speak your own truth in your own powerful words. As Judy Garland said, always be a first-rate version of yourself. Bernadette Peters said You’ve gotta be original, because if you’re like someone else, what do they need you for? [Yes, you can chuckle; that was supposed to be ironic and a little funny…that’s kind of what I’m going for here] And of course, in the words of Polonius, to thine own self be true!!
9. Look around you–enjoy the view. Take the time to look at people, look at nature, the sky, the stars, look at the world. Raise your head every once in a while and look people in the eye. Don’t just go through life with blinders on, mindlessly staring straight in front of you…unless, of course, you are driving in a snowstorm…or a rainstorm…or a dust storm…or a locust storm…or really, well, okay, any kind of storm, or to be honest, if you are driving at all. Don’t look around if you are driving. Get a parent or a friend to drive or get an Uber or something, even though riding in the back seat can actually diminish your field of vision, which totally ruins the viewing experience and actually contradicts the whole idea of looking around, but…I digress. As I was saying, enjoy the view.
8. Another piece of advice—don’t be too hard on yourself. You are all amazing young people. It is so easy to get caught up in superficial things that don’t matter, to feel bad about yourself for any number of reasons, and especially because there are things about you that someone else doesn’t like or wants to judge. Don’t let those silly things determine your self worth. Hypothetically, for example, who cares if you are slightly…well, moderately overweight, with eyesight that is beginning to get worse by the year, a hairline that is receding at a much faster pace than it was a few years ago and hair that is starting to sprout from everywhere, and you find yourself giving a speech that you thought was funny but isn’t getting many laughs and…as I was saying, these are hypothetical examples of superficial things that don’t matter at all. Love yourself, warts and all; shine out there in the world and realize that all of those things that make you the person you are enable you to make the world a better place. Challenge yourself to be the best possible person you can, but also, cut yourself a little slack. We all need a little grace.
7. Strive for clear communication–seek to understand and to be understood. If our world was filled with people less interested in yelling at each other in order to win an argument and more interested in truly communicating by speaking in a way that is respectful and clear, imagine how much better off we would be. Think about what life would be like if all of us people focused less on trying to impress other people to make them think we are smart with artificially complex diction and syntax and throwing out obscure or nonsensical facts like the relationship between the relative anatomies of the lemur and the komodo dragon, to metaphorically explore literalist interpretations of the dreamlike state enhanced by our socialist-capitalist-democratized dictatorship, and we used more words like pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis; if we stopped spouting off at the mouth because we enjoy the sound of our own voice, if we truly seek to understand those around us and to be understood, then the world would be a much better place.
6. Embrace nuance and complexity, depth, sophistication, and contradiction as essential elements of human existence. So pick a side and stick to it!
5. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. When we…sorry [pick up phone] I am in the middle…no, you listen to me, I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t care how many police cars are out there, take care of it yourself!! Where was I? Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Our anger does not usually accomplish what we hope it will.
4. Be patient….
3. For the top three, with your permission, I might actually take a slightly more serious turn. Don’t be afraid to change. As much as all of us love, admire, and adore each and every one of you, just the way you are right now, and we wish we could freeze this moment and preserve you as we know you now–in a non-creepy-formaldehyde or cryogenic sort of way–that would be selfish and short-sighted of us. The truth is that as amazing as you all are right now, I cannot wait to meet the you that will be in existence in 5 or 10 or 20 years, with all the education, experiences, relationships, trials, and triumphs to come, that will shape your future. Embrace the journey, and use each changing moment to become the best possible version of yourself.
2. Balance. So much of life is about balance. Work hard–there is a lot to do–but also find time to rest and recharge. Remember the past and, reflect on it, anticipate the future–prepare for and be excited about what is to come. But also pause and actually enjoy the moment. Look around…take it in [pause and have them look around]. This moment–these people together in this place with those thoughts going on in your mind will never happen again. Write it down in your Writer’s Notebook so you won’t forget it! Balance…vigorously speak out for what you believe in and passionately pursue what you believe to be right in the world, but also listen…really listen..to those voices who are saying different things because they are human beings too, just as passionate in their way of looking at the world. Neither a borrower nor a lender be…sorry, dang it, Polonius again…I just can’t get that guy out of my head. Look out for other people–find ways to make the world a better place for as many of them as possible, but also take care of yourself because if you get burned out, disillusioned, worn down, then at some point, you will lose the ability to help anyone else. Like the airline safety talk says, put your own mask on before you help others with theirs.
1. Now I am onto number one, and before I go on, the truth is that I imagine you are not going to remember a bit of what I just said in the last few minutes, and that’s okay. I do hope you remember this. The number one thing I want to say to you … is thank you. Thank you for leaving a lasting mark upon this school. Thank you for leaving a lasting mark on my life–and the lives of all of us — your teachers, friends, family members. Thank you for carrying yourselves with grace and joy and courage in the midst of an unimaginably challenging year. You provided a lot of light in the midst of darkness all around. Thank you for letting me into your lives last year in our English class. Thank you for your kindness…humor…dedication…creativity…work ethic…silliness…and your humanity. Thank you for inviting me to share these thoughts with you today. I–all of us–we–will miss you.