Happy Graduation Day!! That kind of enthusiasm might be a little much considering I don’t have a graduating senior yet or even know a graduating senior. But, I’m excited for a different reason. My amazingly talented husband has been asked to write & give the commencement speech at his high school this year. He’s allowed me to share it with you all. Have a wonderful weekend!
2014 PVHS Graduation: Keynote Speech
As the school’s AP Language & Composition teacher I dissect speeches with my students all year long. Together, we become archeologists of the written word – examining the strategies speakers use to engage with, to appeal to, and to subtly manipulate their audiences. We sift through the rubble of pages, paragraphs, and sentences, in search of patterns, purposes, and techniques.
I am telling you this as a disclaimer.
You see, I enjoy analyzing others’ work. I find pleasure in dissecting the words of famous orators in order to understand how they build their arguments. However, analysis is much different than creation and deconstruction is the opposite of invention.
Speech writing is an excruciating task for me. I agonize about sharing my thoughts with any group of people, but this is by far the largest audience I will ever face. As a result, this is the most physically ill I have been in my 11 year teaching career. It is also, without a doubt, the highest honor I have received as an educator. I possess an immense amount of gratitude in my heart for this group of students and I am truly honored to be here, with you, today. Thank you, class of 2014, for giving me this gut-wrenching gift.
Let me begin by telling you how disappointed I was, 6 years ago. I was a finalist for the keynote speaker at the first graduation ceremony, however I was not chosen to give the speech. Back then, I desperately wanted to earn the opportunity to speak at graduation, despite not knowing what it was I wanted to say. Looking back, I’m sure that my speech would have been filled with fluffy anecdotes and cheery metaphors that loosely related to the concept of graduation. I would not have given that group of graduates the presence at the podium that they deserved. In the past 6 years I have gained the gift of perspective. I know now, what I want to say. I own my words and I am confident in my message. I am the perfect speaker for this class, for this year, and speaking from this point in my life.
I have had two Davids make a substantial impact on my life. They have lived decades apart from one and other, but they have collectively shaped me more than any one person ever has. I met David Oulman, my father, when I was born (on May 1, 1980). I met David Oulman, my son, at his birth (on July 23, 2013). Between these two events is a 33 year span of my life. It has been a good life, overall. I have been blessed with quality friends. I have been lucky in love. I have been supported, at every turn, by my family. I have laughed far more often than I have cried.
My father was a veteran of the Vietnam War. He flew airplanes and helicopters, restored vintage pickups, and played board games with his kids every weekend. He also loved my mother unconditionally and unabashedly. He had a smile on his face every day of his life. He taught me how to swing a golf club, how to make others laugh, how to kick a soccer ball, how to build a campfire, how to aim a rifle, and how to remain positive in the toughest of situations. My father was my hero. He had the strength and speed of Superman, the honor and integrity of Batman, and the wild and unruly sideburns of Wolverine. He was too big, too strong to die. But, one spring morning my superhero father had a heart attack. He died at the age of 47. I was 11 then and the script that my life had been following was instantly altered.
I grew up. I got married, and when my wife and I decided to have children, the name at the top of our list for boys was etched in stone: David. To me, this was more than a name. It was my chance to honor my father by giving a boy I hoped to mold into a man the same name as the man who shaped me into who I was.
My son’s name is David. However, the decision to name him that was more difficult than I had ever imagined it would be. You see, before David’s birth we were informed that he had a condition termed Trisomy Twenty-One, also known as Down Syndrome. In the midst of processing this news, I realized someplace inside of myself I had begun to question whether or not he should be named David. I am ashamed to share this honest truth, but I had created impossibly high-hopes for the boy who inherited that name. I had a specific vision of what our life together would look like and all of the things I would teach him, just as my father had taught me. I didn’t know if this new reality of my son could be everything I had long hoped for. Simply put, he no longer fit into the script I had written for my life.
I had mistaken the sound of the name for the meaning of the name. It is a name that represents the love, spirit, and vitality that my father lived with. Thankfully, my son perfectly embodies those qualities and in doing so he has altered my perspective on life. David has encountered numerous health issues throughout his short lifespan. While living a significant portion of his days in the hospital, David has undergone countless procedures, surgeries, and exams. But his smile is as bold and beautiful as it was when he was born. He has yet to learn how to crawl, but he has taught me that any amount of disheartening statistics is no match for a sweet heart and loving attitude. I had always thought that I would mold and shape my son, but my 9 month old son is molding and shaping me into a better man.
Graduates, the point is this: there is a beauty within the alterations and adjustments that must be made to the script each life follows. Today is your day to celebrate the beginning of a new dimension to your script. But remember, you are all a work in progress. You are all going to have successes and failures scattered throughout your life. The path you have imagined for your life will be jostled and jagged at times. It is inevitable. You are all going to evolve into something substantially different than the people you are today. Our hope, as an institution and collection of professional educators, is that we have properly prepared you to deal with the relentless rigors and the ever-evolving script of life. The real world is an extremely tough test and there is no answer key or opportunity for extra credit.
I have collected a few simple Dos and Don’ts to help you navigate the rough waters of life:
• Do recognize that momentary hardships can create everlasting character.
• Don’t be afraid of adversity.
• Do allow yourself to accept help from others and be willing to offer to help others as often as you can.
• Don’t constantly nitpick and negotiate.
• Do think for yourself.
• Don’t forget to analyze the life you have been given to live.
• Do learn from your mistakes.
• Don’t get distracted by your defeats.
• Do meet, accept, and defeat challenges.
• Don’t become discouraged or disheartened by difficulties.
• Do take pride in the effort you give the things you have control of in life.
• Don’t be afraid to celebrate the flaws in your life.
• Do enjoy the ride.
• Don’t live your life by a predetermined script.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “good and bad are but names, very readily transferable to that or this.” What I believe he meant with this statement is that we all have control over labeling what you consider to be the “good” and the “bad” in your life. Try your best to concern yourselves with what you believe to be “good” and your life will be something that you can be proud of. Don’t worry about the opinions or critiques of those who do not know what you value in your heart.
The only opinion that matters is your own.
In conclusion, I sincerely wish each and every one of you luck on your journeys. Again, it is my distinct honor to share this stage with you today and I will forever remember this day, with you, the Prairie View High School graduating class of 2014!