Valedictorian Knows Best

I was recently taking a stroll down memory lane and discovered my valedictorian speech from high school. Of course, I soon found myself sprawled on the floor reading my words of yesteryear. It turns out my younger self was pretty inspirational. Here is what I had to say to my fellow classmates at the ripe old age of eighteen.

Distinguished guests, Dr. Hathcock, board members, faculty and staff of Pell City High School, relatives, graduating class members, and friends:
Here we are finally being set free from what has been our life for the past thirteen years. Looking back on our school years, some of us are a bit sad, while others are counting down the minutes of this very ceremony. {That was me. At the time, I hated ceremonies. I still kind of do.} As I peer back into the past, I like to think of school as a series of adventures, one might say a walk through the national park of life. Just think of kindergarten, even the most rebellious of us were excited to see what this school thing was all about. Everything was new and interesting, from recess to going to the library to being chosen as line-leader. 
As elementary school slowly slipped by, we became introduced to subjects such as math, history, reading, and science. The awe and glory of the independence of this nature walk for some of us began to fade. By the fifth grade we were the big cats of the school and felt the excitement and anticipation of climbing the bigger, more challenging mountain. 
Junior high loomed before us. The land of lockers and six different teachers—a true challenge awaited. We encountered such dilemmas as how to open our top lockers when we could not even read the numbers much less reach the knob to enter the digits of the combination, a true challenge indeed, or remember which notebook was math and which English when we had so wisely chosen navy blue for both. Even how to dress out in P.E. without the fifty other people in the one large room witnessing this spectacle became a challenge. 
As we moved on to seventh grade, we had overcome most of the barriers of our former year and were ready for our first dose of school related activities such as sports, band, and clubs. By the eighth grade we had reduced this mountain of junior high to a mere molehill. We were anxious to skydive into high school.
Our adrenaline rushed as we strapped on our mesh book bags, pulled out our trusty maps, and prayed we were heading in the right direction. We pressed onward through initiations, long lunch lines, and being at the bottom of the totem pole. We found that in the thick woods of high school it was survival of the fittest. We proved we were not going to go down without a fight and showed our will power when we won the homecoming float against all odds. 
After surviving our first treacherous year of high school, we looked forward to taking out our revenge on, who else, but the Freshmen. As Sophomores, we enjoyed such thrills as having top lockers—no longer facing the dilemma of junior high—and getting to choose some of our electives instead of taking only required classes. No longer the babies of the school, we basked in the glory and power that came with few responsibilities, even if that power was only over Freshmen. 
Tenth grade seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were considered upper class-men. For most of us, our Junior year meant our first prom. Anyone who has tried to find the Zamora Temple at nine o’clock at night when they have never heard of much less seen the place before knows what an adventure it can truly be. With the jungle of eleventh grade behind us, we looked forward to the mountain of all mountains, the rock wall of our dreams, the big kahuna of rafting rivers, our senior year. It was destined to be the most exciting adventure yet, not to mention the biggest party. 
For the majority , we soon realized being a Senior was going to require some work. It became a series of maneuvers to find more scholarships, pass all our classes, not to mention the graduation exam, and participate in all our extracurricular activities. It was a year of dishing out money and attending Senior meetings. Somewhere in all the commotion we found time to attend another prom, have a perfect football season, win homecoming hall and float, and be offered over a million dollars in scholarships. 
Looking back on my school exploration, I wonder how I survived. Then, I realized that without the guides when I hit rough waters and the trail markers preparing me for what was ahead I would have been really lost or possibly drowned. Thanks to the teachers who have guided us through the years and pointed us in the right direction, we are here graduating today. I would also like to give a big thanks to all the parents out there who have been our safety ropes, giving us enough slack to climb but catching us when we lose our footing. 
Now, as we move on to a new exciting adventure that is the world, we take with us the knowledge and wisdom our parents and teachers have passed onto us. I once read somewhere that living on your own is about making decisions, not always the right ones, but, hopefully, not so many wrong ones that you lose your positive opportunities. As we head out for deeper water there will be rapids along the way but as long as we keep a clear head and a tight grip on the paddles, we always have a better than fighting chance.

My younger self really understood that life is just one big adventure. Sometimes you fall off the raft or fail to bag the peak, but these setbacks shouldn’t keep you from hitting the next trail with just as much gusto as the last. I wish I could harness the confidence and energy of my younger self, but alas, I cannot. I will just have to conquer the world as the older superhero I have become. Don’t let the adult in you beat out of you the power you once knew dreams could hold. Sometimes it is in the midst of turmoil that we learn our strengths.

“I found that every single successful person I’ve ever spoken to had a turning point and the turning point was were they made a clear, specific, unequivocal decision that they were not going to live like this anymore. Some people make that decision at 15 and some people make it at 50 and most never make it at all.”  —Brian Tracey


Me as a Senior. Graduating Class of 2004!