Basalt High School co-valedictorian speech: Andrew Olson

Andrew Olson
Basalt High School Class of 2018 co-valedictorian
Co-valedictorian Drew Olson speaks during Basalt High School's graduation on Saturday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

You all graduated high school. Good work.

You know, a decade ago I would’ve listened to people give speeches like this, and they’d talk about how time flies, and life is short … and all I could think was that time couldn’t move any slower. Yet here we are, and here I am, giving another speech about how time flies and I’m wondering where all the years went.

For some reason, I never thought I would get here. Not standing here, specifically. I mean just among my peers and friends, on this field, being ushered out into the world by the same people who raised us and taught us and loved us when we were clueless, and when we were helpless and ignorant.

Everyone here today is sitting here because they were given a choice. Not a choice between success or failure, or happiness and sadness, nothing like that. You were all given the choice of whether or not to have something more. Many of you have lived in this town your whole lives, others maybe not, even some others are just passing through. But no matter where you’re from or who you are, you’re sitting here today for that reason: that you wanted something more.

I was tasked with writing and delivering this speech because of my academic record alone. But academics alone aren’t what make you who you are. They aren’t what gives you your character. I look out at all of your faces and I see dozens of other people who I know are much more qualified to give this speech than I am. I’m just a nerd. That’s my call sign. I look at you all and I see innovators, I see comedians, I see future mothers and fathers. Behind every face I see a future that is entirely up to you because you made the choice to have something more.

I know everyone in this crowd. I know your name, I know what you like, I know who you are and what you like to do for fun and what you like on your pizza. What do I say to a group of people I’ve known my entire life? What do I say to you all, my best friends in the world, that will send you off out of this town with ambition and a desire to make the world a better place?

The answer is, I don’t know. But I’m also confident that I don’t need to know. If you look to your left and your right, you’ll see people that have done amazing things, you’ll see people that will do amazing things, and that’s because this group of people is different. For as long as I can remember, everyone has regarded this group as being different. I don’t need to make you all ambitious, because you already are. I don’t need to light the fuse that skyrockets you to success or gives you purpose because each of you already has the power to do that yourself. Because you’re different.

Several years ago, a man named David McCullough Jr. gave a commencement speech at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts. The central idea of this speech was that you, the graduates, aren’t special. You are not special. At first I thought that was insightful, because it kind of caught me off guard, I guess. But after reading it again a few years later I found it kind of cynical, because he was basically saying that nothing that you do in your life really matters. And I think he wrote the speech in that way because when he was delivering it, it wasn’t to people that he’d known and lived with and grown up with his entire life, it was to students that he may or may not have taught once or twice over the course of a few years.

But I know you all. I’ve known you for my whole life. I know that you’re all special, because I can look at each of you and see something different and know that you’re someone different because you’ve proven that to me and to each other with your humor and thoughtfulness and your kindness and happiness and sadness.

I got to this point in writing this speech, and I realized that there wasn’t really a point to my saying all of this. I realized that I had kind of been just thinking out loud onto a piece of paper. And thinking out loud is a quality that you know all too well in me.

So for once I decided to have a cohesive thought; and I realized that above all else, I am appreciative. I appreciate having grown up around all of you and grown up in this valley getting to know you. I appreciate my parents. I appreciate your laughter and your criticism and your capacity for emotion. I appreciate each and every one of you teaching me that there’s more to life than just a piece of paper that I can hang on a wall assuring me that I’ve done something.

Life is about love. It’s not about a spotlight or about contributing to society or about watching the numbers go up in your bank account. Seek joy. Take all of these wonderful differences you have that makes you so unique and express yourself, because you are the perfect version of you. And being true to yourself is the best way to be the most joyful and fulfilled version of yourself that you can possibly be.

Do what you love, and do what makes you happy. That’s what you all taught me, and I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life. I hope you do, too.

Thank you.