Aspen High salutatorian notes the importance of humor
Aspen High School salutatorian
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Good afternoon and thank you for being here to celebrate with us today.
When I was given the task of writing a short, entertaining, and meaningful address, it dawned on me that that is a tall order for a high school senior. I’m only 18 and I don’t claim to be wise. Many of you in the audience have years of life experience on me. So I don’t know if what I’m about to say qualifies as wisdom, but I will try to convey three ideas that have served me well thus far.
Number one deep thought (and this may sound peculiar at first): I don’t feel the need to give back to my family, school, or community. Don’t get me wrong, however, I am tremendously grateful for the opportunities that I have had and for the loving family, friends, and mentors who have enriched my life. And I have an overwhelming desire to express to them my appreciation and love. But I take issue with the phrase “giving back.” If not by definition, at least by implication, in order to give back, there must be an obligation to be fulfilled, a debt to be repaid or something must have been taken. It seems to me, that ‘giving back’ is motivated by guilt, or a feeling that somehow we have more than we deserve. I believe that giving of ourselves, performing service, whether in our community or around the world, is proactive, emanating from a sense of responsibility or gratitude. For example, I believe that those who dedicate themselves to educating women in developing nations, or who assist in the recent tragedy in Joplin, MO, or who serve as Big Buddies here in our Valley are motivated by a sense of responsibility for the well-being of others; a feeling of connectedness; that we are all part of a greater whole. As an example of gratitude, I am certain that my parents much prefer to know that I love, honor, and respect them, not only because they’ve provided for my needs and taken an interest in my achievements, but also because of who they are as individuals – their values, accomplishments and dreams.
The class of 2011, as many of you may know, was exemplary in the area of service. Over the past 4 years we have completed thousands of service hours in the school, the community and around the world. My classmates are passionate about giving. Consider Mike Schwartz and Mimi Rogers’ devotion to Action in Africa, Shannon Peirce’s work with Teacher’s Across Borders in Cambodia, Sydney Mondry and Whitney Hills’ Demeter group that strengthens mother-daughter bonds and volunteers in the local community. And that’s just to name a few. Although some of the hours completed by the class of 2011 were used to fulfill the requirements of NHS, CAS, or college resumes, the majority of the time spent doing service far exceeded any requirements. My peers gave their time, not because they felt that they owed something but because as a class we understand the meaning of gratitude and the power of giving.
I once read that if the only prayer you said in your entire life was thank you, that would suffice. So today I would like to say thank you to the faculty and staff of Aspen High School for your dedication, kindness, and support. And thank you to my peers for always being there for me and teaching me things that I could never learn in the classroom. You guys are an amazing bunch and I believe that you will continue giving and serving, not because you are obligated to or because you owe it to anyone, but because in your hearts you feel responsible for others and grateful for the abundance in our lives.
Thought number two: Another thing that I have found to be true in my life is that no matter how well our plans are drawn up and no matter how much we want things to turn out a certain way – life inevitably changes our planned course. Although it can be difficult to let go of my need to control what happens, when I do it is a liberating and powerful experience. I’ve certainly not perfected the practice of nonresistance, but I find that the more I am able to accept what is, the happier I seem to be. I know that we are all going different directions in the coming months – each one of us with our unique goals and plans for the future, but if ever you find your dreams come up a little short just remember the words of that wise old sage, Mick Jagger, and I paraphrase, “You can’t always get what you want, but you always get what you need.”
My last piece of profound advice comes from an unlikely source. 37 years ago my father graduated from high school and coincidentally the commencement address was given by his school’s beloved English teacher. Daniel Bowden, with his wild hand gestures and overly articulated irresistible deep southern drawl, now well into his 80s, remains a legend, at least in the South Florida education community, and remains a close friend of my Dad’s as well. I recently came upon a copy of his speech to the class of 1974 and despite Mr. Bowden’s references to the Delphic Oracle, Jesus, Emerson, Thoreau, Ghandi, and Emily Dickenson, this passage struck me as the most meaningful, (and I quote): “Have a good sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The saddest thing almost that I see here as the years pass, is the return of graduates – now grown ups – some of whom have lost ebullience, their joy, their humor. They are polite and kind, well-mannered and very straight. Of course, one expects grown-ups to behave as such; the pranks and mischief of days gone by would be out of place. But theirs could be a maturer humor, an adult good humor, the ability to look still at the world with a twinkle in ones eyes. It is true that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And all play and no work makes him even duller, but grown-ups must not forget how to play. If you haven’t a sense of humor, go out and find you one. Develop one. It is – and often – one’s salvation.”
Thank you all for being here to honor us today and congratulations to the Class of 2011… I will truly miss you, especially your sense of humor.
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