On Our Past Selves

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Gandhi

Earlier today I was talking to a good friend I was classmates with in high school. Her daughter is a high school senior, and this week graduation festivities were being held. Due to the pandemic, the ceremonies looked very different from our own high school graduation 30 years ago. This year, signs with images and tributes for each graduate were proudly displayed along the drive of the high school, students and parents driving by waving to each other, virtual celebrations, and more that reflected the social distancing and precautions to mitigate the spread of disease. My friend was understandably filled with conflicting emotions ranging from pride and happiness at her daughter’s achievement to sadness and regret that her daughter didn’t have the milestones we both had had in our own senior year. No prom, class rallies, senior week, graduation night, to name just a few. As we wrapped up our chat, she sent me a YouTube video. “Have you seen this?” she asked. Now, I know they say there’s a YouTube video for everything. But who had taken this particular video, spliced in clips of the rehearsal and added a sound track, I don’t know, yet here was a video to our high school graduation three decades ago which happened only a couple days away from the current date in June. In my hands was a link to my past.

Lately, as this is the year of my 30 year reunion (well, it’s been postponed to next year, but that doesn’t change this is the year), I’ve been thinking about that time in my life. That was the year much of my hard work and sacrifice came to fruition. That was the year I was transitioning to the beginning of adulthood, making choices like which college to attend and what major would I pursue that would lay the groundwork for the next phase of my life. To be honest, I don’t remember all of the social and political climate of that time. Every generation has their challenges and defining moments that shape them. I don’t remember all of my classmates and our daily interactions, though I am blessed to be in some of their lives today. And one of them had just given me the chance to recall a defining moment in my life: the commencement speech. I only vaguely remember what I wrote, but I remember being extremely nervous, not just because I am shy but also because I felt the expectation to be erudite, wise, and impactful in my words. I do not know if my speech was heard by anyone that evening, but as I watched the video, I see myself as I was 30 years ago. They say that people don’t change much, and listening to myself and the themes I presented in what was such an important speech to me to get right, there’s probably more than a grain of truth to that statement. On a sultry night in June, with the threat of a thunderstorm growing in the distance as perhaps a harbinger of times to come, this is what 17 year old Vickie had to say as she addressed her classmates for a final farewell to youth with the promise of an unknown future filled with possibilities.

I had two speeches prepared for tonight, one the standard farewell address, the other written from my heart. The decision of which one to present should have been easy; obviously, read the one which makes you sound most intelligent. However, this was not the one I chose. I was confronted with the dilemma with which I think most of you, adults and graduating seniors alike, can empathize. When do we be ourselves? When do we follow conventions? How do we compromise between our personal beliefs and those placed upon us by society? In dealing with this paradox, we find we are compelled to evaluate ourselves and most importantly, discover if we have the courage of our convictions. It is often easier to conform to the majority, in fact more pleasurable in its security, but can we maintain our dignity by conceding? That question becomes painful when the answer is no. As the class of 1990 embarks into life’s unknowns, away from the steady guiding hands of parents, friends, relatives, clergy, and faculty, we shall be placed in many situations that will test our confidence, maturity, beliefs, and integrity. However, albeit small, such choices become stepping stones for greater ones yet to come. I hope we all have the strength to reveal the uniqueness each of us possesses but is often difficult to share. For that is the greatest gift we have to contribute to man. Classmates, perhaps the most tragic being is he who confronts his destiny devoid of hope, aspirations and love. We, the class of 1990 have witnessed many changes, not only in ourselves, but the world as well. Not all these changes are positive. Our generation has been raised in an era of personal and social hardships and has been forced to face reality in our most formative and sensitive years. We bear these scars differently, and will have to endure them as we journey down the pathway of the future. But as we travel our separate ways, we must remember the successes of the recent past. There are still many that dream and hope. Let the class of 1990 begin a new decade of hopes and wishes, not only for ourselves but the generations yet to come. Let us be inspired to stand tall in the sunlight. Let us be aware of the needs of others. Let us cherish the beauty of the universe. Let us enhance the dignity of man. Let us see the world through eyes of compassion. And let us recognize the equality of every living being. May each of you find and fulfill these dreams.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xOGFDrIZ_Ws

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