Ten years ago this spring, I graduated from High School. It’s almost unbelievable that it’s been so long, it certainly doesn’t seem like a third of my life has passed since then. The invitation to my 10 year reunion arrived today, adding reality to a landmark I knew was approaching yet could safely ignore.
It’s interesting that most graduations happen in the spring, as they more often mark an ending of the old ways rather than the beginning of the new. In school terms, the new doesn’t begin until the fall, when nature is resplendent in death. A decided lack of symmetry.
But as cliché as it sounds, my graduation speech was the perfect culmination of my high school career. The following video was taped as I spoke before the ~10,000 people who attended Cherry Creek High School’s Class of 1999 commencement, but this was not the golden moment. That came about 10 minutes before as I gave my speech in front of my class and the faculty inside the school gym.
Since the first three speakers performed before the teachers and students had entered the stadium, the Student Body President, our Class President, and I gave our speeches twice. At the end of our speeches we introduced the faculty, the special guests, and finally the student body. Because those groups were waiting outside the stadium during their introductions and couldn’t really hear what we were saying, the three of us had already given our speeches to the 806 graduating seniors and numerous faculty who had assembled in the gym for one last rally.
The morning hadn’t started well as the Athletic Director turned graduation coordinator started the rally late and wanted to make up time by cutting the speeches short. He knew full well that I had an additional minute and a half of comments that were meant specifically for my class and weren’t a part of my speech before the parents in the stadium, and he knew it was important for me to get to say those words; yet he specifically forbade me from extending my speech.
The Student Body President began the speeches with a snoozer that hardly maintained the electricity and fervor that had permeated the gym just moments before. But you could hardly blame him for a lack of enthusiasm in his speech, as he had the horrible task of introducing more than twenty special guests by name, pointing out where they were sitting, and getting their inflated job titles right. It was a sadistic tradition that I watched at previous graduations and the rule was: no note cards.
If the first speech was boring, the second one was a disaster. The Class President totally flubbed his speech, starting over twice and botching his key lines. The energy in the room sank and enthusiasm was replaced with awkward dread. And precious minutes were wasted, much to the chagrin of the Athletic Director. To remedy the situation, the Athletic Director decided to pep up the room before the final speech, my speech, but having everyone clap for how great the teachers were, knowing full well that was the finale to my speech. A few moans and mild applause gave me the perfect opportunity to turn things around.
I killed it in the gym. By the time I finished the first part of my speech, the excitement and buzz was back and what had been a pathetic and brief clap for the faculty just minutes before became a standing ovation with hoots and hollers.
And it only got better. When the cheers subsided, the Athletic Director tried to take the mic back, but I repaid his attempts to preempt my thunder by giving the final sentiments he had forbade me from giving.
And when the crowd roared and stamped their feet and shouted, they shouted for themselves and they shouted for me. It was at that moment that my eye’s met my father’s and he pumped his fist in the air. I have never been more proud.
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