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Valedictorian’s Commencement Speech: Time to Unite

(Editor’s note: This is the commencement speech that was given by 2010 Schreiber Valedictorian Luke Record, published here in its entirety.)

Before I begin, I would just like to thank those who helped me with this speech, particularly Mrs. Mills and Mrs. Schulman. Just like all the teachers here at Schreiber, they were willing to go above and beyond what was required of them, and for that I will forever be sincerely grateful. Welcome members of the school board, Dr. Gordon, administrators, faculty, family and friends (a quick Happy Birthday to my sister Phyllis), and finally, the class of 2010, or should I say Seniors X! It is my privilege to be able to represent such an amazing body of students on this glorious day. My Grandpa advised me to keep it short, so I will try my best! To be marked with an X is very fitting, seeing that we were the treasure this school has always been looking for. We all know X marks the spot! Although there have been many individual accomplishments over the past four years, our most significant contribution to this school has been our collective passion for learning. Just like a puzzle, the graduating class of 2010 can only be truly appreciated when all the pieces are looked at as a whole. I am but one piece to the puzzle, but I do know when we work together, we can accomplish anything!

 

As children, we learn by making puzzles. Just like a puzzle, we have to put many pieces together before we feel comfortable with ourselves. Similar to the way a child uses trial and error to arrange the puzzle pieces; we, too, use trial and error to figure out the meaning in our lives. At this age, mom and dad have a less direct influence on us, and we must, instead, make choices on our own. Just like puzzle pieces, each of us has distinct, inherent qualities that make us who we are. Dabbling in various areas with the intent to find our passion is essential to the high school experience. Take me for example, while I’ve spent the past four years playing tennis, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and swimming, it wasn’t until I wrote this speech that I realized I’m a dork and my true passion comes from writing.

Even after a puzzle is completely finished, and everything looks spectacular, there will always be that big brother, or in my case, a 300-pound dog, who comes into the room and messes it all up. The pieces go flying and you are devastated. You just worked so hard on your puzzle, and something out of your control came and ruined it. The human race has experienced this arbitrary loss through disease, war, and other tragedies that are no fault of our own. These situations require resiliency, hope, and, most importantly, unity.

One of the other worst scenarios in putting together a puzzle is when you lose a piece. When this happened to me the other day, I thought I could replace the missing piece by cutting a piece of cardboard and trying to fill in the gap. As you might expect, this didn’t work out as well as I planned. The puzzle just seemed incomplete. As with puzzle pieces, we, unfortunately, lose loved ones, but the important thing is we must never forget those we’ve lost.

Just like when you are putting together a puzzle, a little help from another viewpoint never hurts. Many of the lessons I’ve learned at Schreiber have come from teachers. For starters, Mr. Matina taught me killer PowerPoints is the key to impressing girls. Because of Mr. Schineller, I will never forget the phrase “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Mrs. Ferrante taught me never to leave my house without a red ribbon, for good luck, and Dr. Haring taught me to get engaged in New York; that way, if things don’t work out, I can get the ring back. On a more serious note, Mrs. Vernale and Mrs. Cooper taught us not even cancer is a good enough reason to miss school. So when you have inspirations like these in your life, it is hard not to excel.

The truth is, we are all but pieces to the puzzle in the school, community, and even world. Every piece is important and can contribute to the beauty of the puzzle, but no one piece is more important than another. As seen in the movie Seven, one of the most serious sins one could commit is thinking he is the center of the universe, pride. Narcissism as well as materialism are so dangerous because they prevent one from thinking of others. There’s nothing wrong with seeking “Beamers, Benz and Bentleys” for ourselves, but when one puts possessions over people he is confused. We must ask ourselves each and every day whether the lives we are living are in harmony with the values taught to us here at Schreiber and at home, such as honesty and integrity.

No offense to the guys out in the audience, but the majority of my inspiration stems from women, particularly the next person I’m going to speak about. She is my sister, a fellow Schreiber graduate, but her forming of the puzzle was a little different than many of ours. Despite having Down syndrome, she had the courage to join a few of the clubs offered at our school. Unlike some of the students in our grade, she didn’t feel compelled to join every single one. When I recently asked her what her favorite part about high school was, she replied “Chorus.” Although I haven’t been blessed with the most mellifluous voice in the world and haven’t had the chance to participate in the chorus, I certainly have an idea as to why this was the most enjoyable part of her high school career. Not only was it led by a fantastic instructor Mr. Glover, but also the members of the chorus were encouraging and supportive. She never felt ostracized due to her mental disability, but instead felt she was as important to the group as any other singer. Each of us must recognize and cherish the inherent uniqueness within all human beings and unite on the fact that all of us have something to contribute. The best feelings in the world often come when we feel validated. For my sister, this meant receiving a bouquet of flowers upon completing her final concert, for us here today, it means receiving this diploma.

Within a puzzle, one piece can only be adjacent to, or touching, a few other pieces. The same is true of people. In this world, the key to unity is respecting everyone, yet developing bonds of trust and admiration with those you most love and admire. We must always remember: “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.” This is illustrated in The Little Prince, a book your mommy might have read to you as a little toddler. But now that we’re adults, I advise you to take a closer look. In one passage, the Little Prince tries to become friends with a fox. The fox then teaches him how to form a relationship with someone, or “tame” someone. The fox tells the Little Prince “People haven’t time to learn anything. They buy things ready-made in stores. But since there are no stores where you can buy friends, people no longer have friends. If you want a friend, tame me… You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.” Through this passage, we learn that forming a relationship involves patience, and that time spent waiting on someone is not time wasted. Think of when you felt happiest; was it when you were alone, or when you were with loved ones? Who doesn’t remember that legendary gathering where there were all the seniors, but no really, all the seniors. As realized by Chris McCandless from another great film, Into the Wild, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Despite all the similarities between humans and puzzle pieces, there is a key difference. Humans are held together by far stronger bonds than simple cardboard pieces. Even when our lives are shattered, we have the ability to reshape them. Just because you didn’t get into your top choice college or couldn’t find that perfect job doesn’t mean you can’t reach your fullest potential. The sturdy cardboard pieces frustrate kids when they don’t fit together, but people are malleable and can make do with what is given to them. Just because we make a mistake or two along the way doesn’t mean our puzzle is ruined. By facing obstacles, our puzzles actually become stronger. We can withstand anything if we put trust in one another, and unite as one people, one community, one idea. Our lives are not fixed like puzzles; they are dynamic.

The Haitian motto is “Together we are strong.” Haiti was far too strong to be broken, even by an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude. This same resiliency can be found within Schreiber High School. We can’t be broken by rejection, loss or even cancer. Our graduating class is not simply a façade of greatness, a delicate set of puzzle pieces, we are the real deal!