(Ed.'s note: The Schreiber High School tradition and honor of one student presenting the "Graduation Speech" was earned this year by Jill Marcellus. Following is her clever and sophisticated view of graduation day.)
Good morning. I would like to welcome the members of the board of education, Dr. Gordon, the school administrators, faculty, students, family, friends, and guests. Thank you all.
"High school is like the training wheels for the bicycle of real life." That is the speech I might give if I inhabited the generic town featured in the movie Ghost World. I, however, am a resident of Port Washington - home only to Meet the Parents, which I do not plan on quoting. Instead, I turn to my hero Dorothy Parker, the 1920s wit and writer, as inspiration for my own simile.
High school is like a four-line Dorothy Parker poem - the kind where after a few wry turns of phrase it all falls apart. Year one, I thought I had everything: hope, omniscience, unassailable principles, and thrilling opportunity. But here I am at line four of high school, and all of those comforts have disappeared, leaving me with nothing but a sardonic smile. I no longer have dreams of greatness, but I possess something far more valuable: cynicism. In fact, that hard-won cynicism is the greatest benefit of completing a high school education.
By high school graduation, we have been torn down to our basics. One of my middle school teachers once described her job as an attempt to transform snotty little kids into decent human beings. If that is true, then high school serves as the free-range farm for this newly hatched decency; in other words, it gives us the illusion of freedom and maturity within the confines of an electric fence. This is an ideal breeding ground for cynicism, with our fledgling confidence repeatedly knocked down, shocked, and resurrected. Eventually, we are left with a perspective born of experience, embodied by that sardonic smile.
Now I understand that optimism is the go-to graduation sentiment, and probably what you expected to hear from me. Don't worry - as I look out on the fresh-faced and eager class of 2006, I have no desire to quash any hope and ambition sitting before me.
But I would like to suggest that more can be built on a foundation of cynicism than could possibly arise from the loftiest dreams and aspirations. High school has taught us what we can become, but it has also taught us what we don't have to be. We no longer all aspire to join the ranks of policemen, firemen, movie stars, or any other profession conventionally-subtitled, "beloved hero of glory and fame." Instead, advertising executive or restaurant owner may sound pretty good - and there's nothing wrong with that. High school has forced us to at least be on speaking terms with practicality, and if that means we have to sacrifice our visions of perfect, altruistic futures, it may also mean that we can accept our lives as publishing interns or waitresses. Being cynical prepares us for whatever may come ahead.
Dorothy Parker, of course, puts it best:
If I should labor through daylight and dark,
Consecrate, valorous, serious, true,
Then on the world I may blazon my mark,
And what if I don't, and what if I do?
Essentially, that is the question we face upon graduation. "What if I don't, and what if I do?" What will really happen if we fulfill expectations, fail to fulfill them, or create new ones altogether? This is supposedly our time to prove ourselves - a rather forbidding, overwhelming task. It is, therefore, important to remember that these questions exist, and that there are endless possible answers to them.
We all have potential. If you want to, then try to be the amazing, honorable person who you always dreamed you would become. But, after four years of high school, Regents, SATs, APs, and college and job applications, it's OK to be a little world-weary. By now, you know you're not capable of everything; that single-mindedly reaching for the stars can easily land you in the gutter.
You're probably wondering at this point, "What college was she rejected from? Who wouldn't let her sit at the lunch table?" Or, put more simply, "Why is she so bitter?" The easy answer? Math. Repeatedly hearing that I could succeed in a tenth-grade advanced math class did not stop me from spectacularly failing the midterm. The road to success is not paved with platitudes like, "You can do anything you set your mind to." My experience with such failure has only honed my skepticism for the advice of others and taught me to better estimate my own skills. I managed to make it through that math course, but not by enough for it to be a clichéd success story. I got by. Our presence here today shows that we were all able to get by - which means that we're capable of succeeding, yes, but also capable of laughing off defeat.
Let's face it: Port Washington is a town with high expectations. We have all experienced soul-crushing failure at some point in our high school careers. Yet still we have managed to crawl out of the dark abyss of self-pity into the burning, bright sun of graduation day. Getting by is an accomplishment. Remember that, and the future is less daunting. You may not hear this often, but you don't have to prove yourself and "blazon your mark" on the world - because, well, what if you don't? You'll be left where you are today, which isn't so bad. Just look around - not all of our happiness is based on lofty dreams and goals. And if you do try for that puppies-and-rainbows future, that's great... but remember this lesson of high school. Be cynical. Don't forget your failed tests, your hardships, your lost friendships, your defeats, or, say, your entire middle school experience. Appreciate your accomplishments, but don't get carried away by them. So if you do eventually fail and life disappoints you, you can always rely on that sardonic smile.