Below are my prepared remarks for my Valedictory Address to the Class of 2008 of Dover High School.
Good morning Superintendant Onofry, Assistant Superintendant Tierney, Board President Shufelt, members of the Board of Education, Principal Basting, Assistant Principals Rizzo, Timm, Bauerlein; faculty, family, friends, and the Class of 2008.
On this day of celebration, I’m honored to have the opportunity to speak to you all. Although they apply to everyone under this tent, I direct my thoughts toward two groups of people: those individuals who helped me get where I am today, and my class, the Class of 2008.
It’s said that we stand on the shoulders of giants. This is so true, and I appreciate all of the giants in my life, whose love, trust, and guidance have helped me get where I stand today.
I begin with my teachers; it is their instruction that has guided me intellectually throughout my entire life. Although I appreciate the guidance of each and every one of them, I must signal out two key educators, without whom I wouldn’t be who I am today.
The first of these is Mr. Watson, whose remarkable work ethic, genuine personality, and love for life has motivated me to strive for new heights again and again. Whether he’s valiantly saving lives, breaking up fights, or calling people the most ridiculous names ever, he’s someone we should model ourselves after.
The second is Mr. Wright, who has been a moral guidepost for me since my first day in Dover some six years ago. Mr. Wright has taught me to live and die by the golden rule, to always look out for the welfare of others, and to never stop questioning, ever. Along the way, he’s certainly been a character. I’m sure none of us will ever forget his reenactment of the caning of Senator Charles Sumner in 7th grade, especially the students who served as the victim.
I move onto my friends – the people I enjoy spending time with, the people who keep me sane in an increasing insane world, and the people who remind me of my humility when necessary, which seems to be often. Although I can’t possibly mention all of you right now, I’m confident you know who you are.
Very often, the greatest giants in our lives are those in our families. Every student who eagerly awaits his or her diploma is a testament to the guidance of the people closest to them. As I recognize my family, I’m certain each graduate appreciates the kindness of his or her own.
I start with my grandparents and aunt, whose love and concern have always been a pillar in my life. I’m so glad they’re able to see me today.
I’m grateful for my parents, whose absolute trust has been the greatest gift ever given to me. Not once in my life did they doubt my judgment or tell me I wasn’t good enough to do something.
Dad, your mantra and hope for me to, “Work smart and not hard,” is something I’ve come to internalize. And Mom, your strength and faith to overcome crippling back pain every day of your life to take care of Christy and me makes you the strongest person I know.
Finally, I recognize Christy Mondello, my sister and best friend. Christy, you’ve shared virtually every experience with me, both good and bad. It’s your kindness and patience that always keeps me going, especially in the face of daunting circumstances. I love you and am so fortunate to have you in my life.
The primary group of people I address today are the graduates I’m proud to be walking with, my class, the Class of 2008. To you all, I offer three pieces of advice – that’s it, three.
We will all soon be moving onto something bigger than this, bigger than high school. Whether you’re entering the workforce, joining the military, or going off to school again, I urge you to leave this phase of your life on good terms. We all have our Mr. Wrights, Mr. Watsons, or best friends – the people who we got along well with. We should seek these people out and let them know just how much we’ve always appreciated them.
But, throughout my time here, I can recall people who I simply didn’t treat fairly. I suspect that many of us have someone like this, someone who we didn’t give a fair chance. This person might be a member of your family, perhaps another student, or maybe a teacher or coach.
Think about it – think hard. After this ceremony, take a moment to find the person who you aren’t “okay” with, and try to set things right. Always remember that forgiveness is healthier than resentment and that friendship is infinitely more useful than a grudge.
A moment ago, I spoke of the giants in my life. We’ve all had our own giants, the people who help us to achieve our dreams. Class of 2008, my second piece of advice is to be a giant in someone else’s life.
Although this may sound daunting, it doesn’t mean dramatically changing our lifestyles. For instance, by staying positive, acting as a role, and volunteering our time and skills to help someone in need, we begin a cycle of compassion that ultimately benefits everyone.
Almost everyone in my class could tell you that I’m an avid follower of politics. On the topic of giants, I’d be remiss if I didn’t quote my favorite Senator, whose eloquent thoughts resonate with my advice. The Senator says,
I ask you to take this harder path – not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt.
I ask you to take it because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on our collective salvation. And because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.
Thank you, Senator Obama.
As we move on, we must recognize that the relative prosperity of our generation’s childhood is gone. The soaring gas prices and global decline of respect for our nation are indicative of a deep problem that’s plaguing it: a lack of leadership. Now, it’s our turn to guide the United States of America – to restore it as the world’s leader – financially, technologically, and ethically. The problems in our path include poverty, war, and a climate in crisis. But despite the enormity of these issues, by looking at our track record, I’m certain that we can overcome them.
Together, as a class, we endured many crises and always found a way to emerge stronger than before. We’ve taken strenuous exams, played hard in difficult matches, and performed in breathtaking plays and concerts. We’ve built relationships, taken trips abroad, and harvested wisdom wherever it’s found. At Pep Rally this year, where the seniors swept in every award category, I had a pleasure as Master of Ceremonies to yell, “This is madness!” – to which you all screamed back, “This is Sparta!” And most recently, we coordinated the most awesome senior trip and senior prank in the history of this school, period.
If that’s what we could do in the course of these last few years of high school, imagine what we’ll be able to do when we choose our own paths. When we let our passions guide us, there’s nothing we can’t do. Fellow classmates, find what you love doing in life and stick with it. That is my third and final piece of advice for you today, because it is by working with this talent, calling, or skill that you’ll find true happiness and change the world.
No matter where life takes you, go forward and make this community and the giants in your life proud. And along your way, never let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough. We’re more than ready, each and every one of us, to make our dreams come true.
Again, thank you everyone under this tent for coming out on this wonderful day. Thank you Class of 2008, and thank you Dover. I love you.