Valedictory Address

This is the speech I gave at my high school graduation.
Before I begin, I'd like to thank Dr. Laurie, Mr. Laurie, Ms. Butts, Mrs. Shienvold, Mrs. Cvammen, Mr. Gulotta, the administration, deans, faculty, guidance, my peers and my family. Also, thank you to all the friends and family of the graduates for joining us.

It is now my honor to give a final valedictory address before we all blindly plunge into adulthood, following Life's ever-winding road. I have only a few words of advice to give, and though they might seem trite or corny now, I think they are very important.

Life can at once seem extremely beautiful, profound, and terrifying; our understanding of it is only imperfect and flawed. But among all doubts and uncertainties, among all the travails and absurdities of existence, I have always been sure of one thing: love. In my mind, there's nothing else really worth talking about.

Love is, unfortunately, a tired word, one reiterated unceasingly in our songs, farewells, and text messages. We "heart" nearly anything, from new bands to New York, from McDonald's to McSteamy. We constantly tell people we love them, and almost exclusively devote our literature, music, and cinema to the subject of love.

And yet, despite all our professions of love, despite all our emphasis, we still live in a desperate, crying world, a world that is beautiful but fragile, in which "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." We live in a world that all too often is lonely, cruel, and empty – a world, in short, that lacks love.

I have often wondered why a world that so obviously desires love would be so lacking in it, why a world that so idolizes love so desperately needs it. Although no one can be sure, I think our error often lies in not understanding love.

Love is not just a passion or a feeling, not just an attraction or an emotion. Love is nothing more or less than a willingness to sacrifice oneself for others, to value the well-being of others above our own.

Virtually since birth, we have been deluged with messages of individuality and self-discovery. We have placed a primacy on what we want to do, on what we want to be, and I fear we have forgotten that a life lived for oneself is no life at all.

I was asked to speak about the future, about the paths we all will pursue, about where the Road will lead us. I could have spoken about careers, crossroads, or choices, but I believe now and always that where we go and what we do will mean nothing if we do not love the people around us. Health, knowledge, and comfort are all stale and meaningless without this sincere love. "One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love."

Every day, we are blessed with the irreplaceable opportunity to brighten the lives of those around us, to make this world beautiful with our kindness and concern for others. We can love with our actions, love with our thoughts, and love with our words. We can't all be rich or famous or pretty or smart – but we can all love, even when it is difficult.

About two years ago, five Amish schoolchildren were murdered in a small Pennsylvania town. The response of the Amish community to such a tragedy was beautiful and powerful: love. The Amish, whom we often mock, loved and forgave in a way we rarely would, inviting the murderer's family to the funeral. As one grandfather watched his granddaughter's burial, he told the young Amish boys, "We must not think evil of this man."

I have been given the opportunity to speak today because of my academic performance. But the honest truth is that grades aren't what really matter. What matters is the people around us. Today, I am truly honored to share this moment with people who aren't just classmates, but friends. Many of you have sacrificed time, energy, and sanity for me and for each other, and that sacrifice is beautiful. I am proud beyond words that my three co-speakers and I never competed for accolades, but supported each other every step of the way, and I know all of us had friends like that during these past few years. Class of 2008, you are beautiful, intelligent, and talented people, but I respect you most for your kindness and compassion.

I can't tell you which college you should have chosen, which field you should major in, or which career you should enter. But I can make you one promise: if you love, if you are truly willing to dedicate yourself to friends, to family, to acquaintances, and even to strangers, it'll all be worth it. It won't be easy, it won't be safe or cautious – but it will be beautiful. "Love is strong as Death..." As we embark anew upon the Road, I hope we all can remember what the Beatles said: “All You Need Is Love.” Congratulations, Class of 2008.