GRAD WEEK: Nevada Union High School celebrates 2019 commencement
Special to The Union
EDITOR’S NOTE: As the Class of 2019 celebrates graduation, The Union is sharing speeches presented at the ceremonies from across the community. Below is a transcript from a commencement speech from Alexandria Howard, Nevada Union High School valedictorian.
First of all, I would like to thank Mrs. Rhoden for inviting me to speak to you all today.
Some of you know me as a daughter, a sister, a friend, or the person who opens doors for others. (It’s kind of fun to count how many people will say thank you.) But to the many of you who don’t know me, I’m Alex Howard. You’ll probably forget that name, which for sake of my nerves is a good thing.
I want to congratulate the class of 2019 for surviving this place and congratulate our teachers for surviving us students.
Four years ago, we came here as little freshmen, completely innocent to how much hate a person could have for stairs, or how much we should really go for a jog once in a while. In time, we came to know the many amazing teachers who desperately tried teaching us the basics of English, history, and science, only to have us learn who the sexiest Founding Father is, how Benedict Cumberbatch cannot say the word “penguin” to save his life, and how, as long as a test is curved, a 68 percent can be an A. We had started this new chapter within our lives, a new part of our journey. And four years later, we do the same.
For today, we stand together at a crossroads, looking towards the many ways we could go in life. A few people know where they are going: across the terrace, down the stairs, a left at the corner, then a right, straight down the path, then another left, another right, and finally another left to rest at a bench beneath a chestnut tree. To the many of us who got lost at the fifth or sixth direction, we’ll have to find our own way.
But this path won’t come with directions; it will twist, turn, upend itself, and circle around. We won’t have a guide to tell us if we should turn left or right. We won’t know if we made a wrong decision, or if we did something differently, whether there could have been a better outcome.
Every day, we live with an uncertainty, one that is rarely thought about or even acknowledged. We become so accustomed to familiarity, that we begin to feel afraid of change, even a minute one, like switching the layout of a classroom or having a new seating chart. (Looking at you Ms. Boren.) We as human beings are naturally inclined to seek what is familiar, even if that means sacrificing our passions, our hopes, or our health to achieve that.
Today, we won’t know what happens tomorrow. Tomorrow, we won’t know what happens next Tuesday. Most likely it will be the same as next Monday, but maybe with a different dinner, unless it’s leftovers night.
However, it only takes a moment, a single instance, or even a word, for our lives to change. And once they do change, it’s near impossible to go back.
WHAT KEEPS US HERE?
There is a silver lining to that though, when you look at the grand scheme of things: we are all just one species out of the millions that exist on one planet out of the billions that spin in a singular galaxy out of the hundred billion galaxies that make their home in the observable universe.
We are nothing more than a fraction of a singular strand in the tapestry of the cosmos. Anything we do, everything we do, will most likely be confined to the limits of this Earth, or at the very most this solar system.
History will not care if you said “thanks, you too” to a waiter who just wished us to “have a nice dinner,” or if you walk past someone who just said hi to you and you awkwardly say hi back while trying to figure out their name and why they know yours. It will not care if you become famous. It will not care if you solve a Rubik’s cube or find a means to end world hunger in your free time. (Although, we should strive for the latter if we can.)
One day, history will be no more, and given accelerating climate change, that day is probably sooner than we think. One hundred, one thousand, ten thousand years from now, the things we have done and will do in our lives, will fade into obscurity.
Today, despite coming face to face a new world, full of potential and uncertainty, our choices are free from the restraint of meaning.
For some of you, that is a worrying thought. What is the point of doing anything if it amounts to nothing?
But pay attention to how I just said that. “With our choices free from the restraint of meaning.”
Let me pose another rhetorical question, what is your greatest failure? I want you to think about that for a moment, and not the half-joking answer you tell your friends in order to avoid thinking about the subject.
Now, imagine if the mistake you made haunted you incessantly; you could never find a way out from it, that it brought not only your life to ruin, but those who you hold close?
If our failures had any true bearing on our lives, who in their sane mind would ever put themselves in a situation where failure is a possibility?
Having meaning, significance, is what paralyzes us from doing something, keeps us from seizing opportunity the moment it crosses our paths, or risking the world as we know it in order to pursue our dreams and find a more fulfilling life.
The only thing meaninglessness does is leave one question unanswered.
What keeps us here then? I mean, besides gravity.
The truth is that there are an infinitely many answers.
But they all sum up to this: Live for today.
STRIKING THAT BALANCE
The definition of life is not just breathing, not just existing, not just succumbing to mindless distraction or mindless doing.
It’s taking risk, facing momentary success or failure, doing what you enjoy, taking steps to better yourself, being where you love, chasing your ambitions, finding sustainability and independence- Everything is meaningless, so why not make the most of it?
I’m not saying to be reckless with your life. There is a stark difference between pursuing happiness and pursuing desire. Being impulsive will leave you, and possibly those close to you, with a sense uncertainty, regret, and a false perception of what happiness is. The thing is, with life, there a balance between doing what you want and doing what you need. Happiness is striking that balance, while regret and instability lie not far off either side.
We must live our day not as though it is our last, but if it was our last, we’d be happy with everything we’ve done.
With that being said, there is something else I wish to say to you before we all go our separate ways.
We all hide our secrets, our inadequacies, our insecurities, our pain. We allow the silence to swallow them because it’s easier to do that than try to find the words to express everything we feel. In many ways, we will always be alone in our experiences and emotions. It is what makes each and every one of us unique. I am not asking you to try and feel another’s pain, for there will be times even the most empathetic of us cannot imagine what it is like. What I’m asking you to do is to understand that everyone has a story, a journey that they have traveled, and that there are parts of that journey that they will never find the words to express what occurred. So if you have the chance to make someone’s day shine a bit brighter without great expense to your own self, do it, without hesitation.
Life is an opportunity, one where every day should be realized to its fullest and never be taken for granted. It is a chance to find ourselves and change the world for the better. Our time here is limited, so why not do as much as we can before we leave, why not leave the world better than we found it, why not see past all our differences and realize there are things that make us all, everyone in the world, human: we all want happiness, we all want to be loved, to have a sense of stability and peace in our lives. These are universal, but they don’t appear out of thin air. There has to be people willing to create these things for themselves and others. I ask that you become these people.
Because if there is anything I want you to take from this speech, or my words to you today, it is this:
The greatest happiness you can have in life is to bring a smile to another’s face.
Live for today class of 2019, and live with compassion.
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