After sitting through the umteenth graduation speech of my long life by preppy shallow minded valedictorians, class presidents, high school principles and honored guests I thought this might be a nice change of pace and a little touch of reality. . .
Welcome all you parents of these graduates and congratulations to all my fellow graduates.
I know that for some of you, graduating from high school isn’t that big a deal. I saw you walking out of all those advanced science, math and english classes pulling down As one right after another. You were big time athletes, class officers, cheerleaders and in other positions of high esteem that most of us sitting here today couldn’t have imagined. For us, this didn’t come easy. It was a monumental struggle for me to finish up my math requirement and writing that term paper in grammar and composition was nearly impossible. I suspect my teacher felt sorry for me when she gave me that C and passed me. Almost every other class was a struggle except for those few that catered to my ADHD and general lack of self esteem and my negative self perceptions.
I know my friend over there in the back sitting uncomfortably between the beauty queen and the star soccer player also worked hard to get where he’s at today. He went home every day to the three room apartment that he, his mother and two younger sisters share on the third floor of their low rent tenement over on THAT side of town. During his junior and senior year he had to be at work everyday after school at 5 o’clock and didn’t get off until 10. His mother’s minimum wage job just didn’t cover all the basic expenses let alone the bare needs of he and his two school aged sisters.
Remember all those black eyes and bruises I used to come to school with and claim were from getting into fights? Well, the fights were with my older brother and father. I was greatly relieved when they left our house last year and my mom and I got some peace and was able to give my mother the money from my early morning paper route rather than have my father steal it for booze.
I do want to thank that one teacher who always encouraged me and pushed me to get this thing done. She was dedicated to seeing that I and some of my friends didn’t get lost in the cracks. Her words were like life preservers that kept me afloat at times when I thought I just couldn’t take it anymore. As for the asst. principle and principle who badgered me and gave me unmerciful hell every damn time we crossed paths. . . “Fuck you.” I made it despite your pissy attitude and what seemed like your personal vendetta against me. And all you teachers who swept me under the rug and offered none of your time and effort: well, it’s easy to understand how attractive it is to focus on those star players. I guess we all do it on some level, but geez, couldn’t you just once have taken a student like me aside and given me a few worlds of encouragement and offered your support and help? It would have meant the world to me and provided me with inspiration for weeks. But no, you were too caught up in your own little world to concern yourself with me and my friends. You called us slackers, trouble makers and other not so flattering labels. So to you I say “fuck you too.” Again, I made it against the odds you stacked against me.
I know that for many of you teachers and administrators it is much easier for you to relate to the middle and upper class preppy star students than it is for you to relate to those of us who come from more humble places. You were probably star students yourself and came from places much more similar to those prep kids you catered to.
So let me leave you with this: I made it and my friend over there in the back made it, but for every one of us who did, there were a bunch who didn’t. They got pregnant without any options, had to get jobs and some just gave up sometime between jr hi and today and you never saw or thought of them again. . . hell, you hardly noticed those of us who stayed and struggled. I know it didn’t seem to you like we were struggling. It seemed to you like we were slacking. . . I know, because you told me that at least once a day, but rest assured, I picked and clawed my way to this high school degree today, with pain and tears and exasperations that you can’t imagine. So please, next time you are ready to dismiss some snotty underclass punk as a slacker or a trouble maker, stop and think about what he might be going through. Have some compassion.
When I walk out of here tonight I will start a new life just as sure as that star sitting up there on the stage who just delivered that prepackaged shallow speech untainted by the slightest bit of real life experience, but I won’t be going to an Ivy league school in the fall or be on a full ride athletic or academic scholarship to any university. There won’t be any post graduation vacation to the beach or Disney World before I enter engineering or premed. No, I’m going to have to go out and get a full-time job tomorrow, but in the fall I’m hoping I’ll be able to begin taking classes at the local Jr. College. You see, I have this impossible dream to be the first one in my family to get a college degree. I know it’s not very likely and if I do it will take me many more years of struggle, but I can still hold onto that hope.
So my thanks to all those who gave me any help in this achievement. And to those of you who treated me like the underclass low rate person that I’ve always felt like I am, “fuck you and go to hell.” From this day forward I’m going to begin feeling good about myself despite the actions of scumbags like you.