Basalt High School co-valedictorian speech: William Orben

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

As we’re all finally moving on and preparing to get lost in our new-found freedom, I just wanted to remind everyone that there’s still time to give it all up and run into the wild like Chris McCandless. I think he actually graduated college but I know this class of 2018 to be overachievers and I figure one of you could beat his record by four years at least.

To clarify for those of you who don’t know the story of Chris McCandless, a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp, he was a man who right out of college donated most of his life savings to charity, and decided to leave his privileged life to slip away from society. Of course, I’m just kidding about running away, the world needs all the help it can get right now and you graduates would be sorely missed. My point is that things don’t need to be taken so seriously, and that there’s no such thing as the perfect, planned out life.

That’s the only reason why I’m worried about this class. Not because I don’t think you will go on to do amazing things and strive to create a better world. But because I’m worried that you won’t be able to satisfy yourselves. We all place unnaturally high standards on ourselves, whether you believe it to be true or not.

There’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high, but it shouldn’t define who you are. Through high school I’ve seen a distinct pattern of doing things to impress someone else, or to demean another. Understandably, that’s what high school’s all about. It’s cliquey and awkward. But often times we forget to just take a step back and realize that there’s more at stake than just forming an image for yourself. Don’t just go to a college that will impress people, or get a degree in fear of instability, or just settle in hopes that your life looks desirable to others. There’s no shame in instability. Life is chaotic. Just watch “Planet Earth 2,” you’ll see what I mean.

There’s no golden standard for how you should act or what you should strive for. For me it’s clear that there’s a good amount of you sitting here that deserve to be in my place right now. I look at this class and see a group of fully capable leaders and scholars. But if I learned one thing from schooling to be true, other than laws of science, it’s that these honors that I’m representing today shouldn’t be put on such a high pedestal. Things like Mauricio’s Peace Garden and Stephanie’s Environmental Club that they founded should be a larger portion of this ceremony. Unfortunately, the emphasis lies mostly on grades.

I’m sure you’ve all heard, and probably agreed with the idea that society is focused too much on the numbers: the grades, paychecks or social media attention. But knowledge and action are two far different things. Sure we’d all like to say how we don’t really care about superficial success or that “we just want to be happy,” whatever that means. Yet we all still follow that same path we so openly despise.

Now, striving for traditional success isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s certainly an entertaining way of life, and I’m not saying you should treat everything like it’s meaningless, but I think we could all take some valuable lessons from the McCandless story. There will be times where we feel like we’re making all the wrong moves, and that things aren’t going according to plan, but it’s important for us to remember that there is no plan at all. Sure there will be ups and downs, but we’re all headed towards the same place in the end, so we might as well make light of the mistakes, and celebrate the triumphs.

So today let’s just celebrate this incredible triumph that we’ve all accomplished, and the wild ride ahead. Congratulations to Drew for getting into Brown, and to Kaylin for going to New York to study neuroscience, to Noah and Thomas in their pursuit of college-level football, to Bella at TCU, to Ben with his tape measures, and to all of you who have already done incredible things with your lives.

Anyway congrats and good luck to all of you, just follow your best instincts, and I know you’ll all end up where you’re meant to be. I’m proud of everything we’ve accomplished so far, and I wish you all the best in the future, wherever that may lead. In the words of Jim Carrey, “Just relax,” class of 2018, “and dream up a good life.”

Thank you.