(If this should be in chit-chat, please move it; I wasn’t positive.)
My high school graduation was yesterday afternoon, and as salutatorian, I was asked to give a speech during the ceremony. It’s really a testimony to how much FIRST has helped me with my public speaking that I didn’t faint on the podium, but that’s not the reason I’m posting about it.
When I was fretting over what to write about, I decided the goal would be to make people laugh a bit, keep them from dozing off, and hopefully give them something to think about. I finally realized, what better way to accomplish that last goal than…focusing it around a Dean Kamen quote!
Here’s the address; I wanted to share it with the FIRST community.
Everyone starts off with a quote from someone famous. I didn’t want to start off with a quote; I wanted to start with an interpretive dance, but I didn’t think that would be much appreciated. I also ruled out the one-woman band, the flock of flamingoes, and the song-and-dance number. So, you get…a quote.
Dean Kamen is a prominent inventor and promoter of technology as a pathway to solutions for our world’s problems. A favorite saying of his and the foundation of much of his work is the idea that, “You get what you celebrate.”
By celebrate, he means give importance to or designate as a priority. We tend to celebrate events or concepts that are important to us. For example, society celebrates entertainment in all forms, whether your preference is film, television, sports, or anything else. Hence society’s obsession with sports and movie stars – and hence the term “celebrity.” These people are the best of the best at what they do, and since society prizes what they have to offer, they are celebrated.
However, everyone who follows the lives of celebrities knows that, like all of us, they are not perfect. Their prowess in their given arenas does not always – or even frequently – translate into role model qualities in other aspects of life. This is where Mr. Kamen’s quote is not only a truism, but also a warning of sorts. When society celebrates entertainment over all else, its celebrities – its role models – are good at entertaining, but not necessarily good at anything else.
This mantra applies not only to society at large, but to each of our lives individually. What we have celebrated in high school has determined where we are now. The star athlete has celebrated her sport, and spent countless hours honing her skills and studying ways to improve her technique. The model student has celebrated learning, and has dedicated his time to meeting and exceeding the academic expectations set before him. Many have celebrated their friends, and formed bonds so tight they may as well be family. Some have celebrated a strong work ethic, and held down various jobs during their high school career. Others have celebrated their faith, their hobbies, their community, or their musical or artistic talents. Some nights, it seems like we’re just celebrating an improved win record playing solitaire against the computer. Whatever you’ve celebrated, it has put you where you are today.
With our induction into the real world, what we choose to celebrate becomes that much more important. We’ve reached the end of one important segment of our training, and we’ve reached the threshold of adulthood in the eyes of the world. As we become a greater part of society, what we choose to celebrate now affects what society is celebrating. What we celebrate determines our paths from this point onward. Looking back over your high school career, think about what you have celebrated and where it has taken you. If you are content with where you are, you have celebrated the right things. If not, perhaps it is time to reconsider – or perhaps discover for the first time – what’s most important to you. Whatever path you choose, your priorities are ultimately for you and you alone to decide.
One of the most important forces in our high school careers has been our parents and teachers, as well as community mentors and school administration. I’d like to close with a heartfelt thank you to all of them who have dedicated so much of their time to celebrating our achievements and our potential. Erma Bombeck said, “Graduation day is tough for adults. They go to the ceremony as parents. They come home as contemporaries. After eighteen years of child-raising, they are unemployed.”
Today, we’re all celebrating the same thing. Whether we’re happy or sad to leave this school, whether we’re feeling excited, somber, or bored silly, we’re celebrating our survival. We’ve survived these past four years, and by that survival have earned the right to try our hand at surviving the world at large. Congratulations, Class of 2008, it’s time to take on the world!