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Valedictory
Delivered May 24, 1965

Background:  I graduated first in my high school class, which numbered 76.  We were the last to graduate from Richwood High School before the school became part of the new North Union High.  Our class motto, spelled out in silver letters behind us on the stage, alluded to the changing times:  "Honor the past and serve the future."

 

As the class valedictorian, I delivered the following seven-minute speech before we received our diplomas.  My themes weren't all that original:  a rite of passage, a beginning instead of an ending, a future that lies before us, an echo of the Gettysburg Address.  I quoted an earlier valedictory by Larry Parish of the Class of 1963.

But, while my inclination as an active high school student in modern times had been to get things accomplished, I noticed that some of my classmates preferred the "fun" of goofing off.  So I included a bit of a pep talk.

 

Members of the faculty
and Board of Education;
     parents;
          guests;
               fellow members of the Class of 1965.

Down through history,
     mankind has had various ceremonies
     designed to indicate
     that a child was no longer a child
     but now an adult.

For Jews,
     the rite of Bar Mitzvah
     means that a boy
     has accepted the responsibilities of a man
     and has been received into the household of Israel.

When a boy in ancient Rome became a man,
     he was allowed for the first time
     to put on the pure white toga
     symbolic of manhood.

For most modern American young people,
     the ceremony which marks
     their commencement into adult life
     is the ceremony in which we
     are taking part tonight:
the commencement from high school.

After twelve years,
     our public education has come to an end,
and we must now assume the responsibility
     of educating ourselves
     for the living of our lives.

All of us are now about eighteen years old,
     and according to custom,
now is the time
     when we must start
          moving out into the world
               on our own.

Not all of us
     will be leaving home right away
— but some of us will.

Some of us will find jobs
     and begin earning our living.

Others will go on to higher education.

Some will serve the United States
     in the armed forces.

And a majority of the girls
     eventually will become homemakers.

All of these are worthy activities.
They deserve the best
     that we can put into them.  

And tonight is the best possible time
     to resolve that we will give our best.

Tonight,
     as we prepare to begin our adult lives,
     we can set our goals for those lives high.
Much better to do so now than, 
     forty years from now, 
     to wish we had.

"All right," you say, "good idea!
     I hereby resolve to have high ambition
     and really to make a success of my life!"

Most commencement speeches end about here.

They sound good;
     they have good ideas;
but with all the metaphors
     and the idealistic language
     and the excitement of the evening,
somehow the message gets lost.

Listen to another commencement speaker
     of a couple of years ago.

"The road lies before us.
Success beckons
     from her seat on high
     at the end of the road.
The rest is up to us.
But we must remember
     that the road we are called to travel
     is not an easy road,
for there is no easy road to success."

What this speaker was saying is simply this:

FOR SUCCESS,
WE MUST WORK.

We must work
— hard work,
     self-sacrificing work,
     sometimes tedious and uninteresting work —
for there is no easy road to success.

We may honor the past,
     but we must serve the future!

Those of us who will be earning our living
     will discover that to do so is not easy.
If we expect to get three dollars
     for an hour's work, 
we must do three dollars' worth of work
     in that hour.

Those of use who go on to higher education
     will find its demands more rigorous
     than those of secondary education.

Those of us who serve our country
     may have to give our lives.

And those of us who dedicate our lives
     to making homes for ourselves and our families
     will find that such service is not always joy.
There will be tears and disappointments,
     budgets and burned toast,
     doors to fix and grass to mow:
there will be work.

     My friends,
think back over your lives
     to the happiest moment you can remember.

Were you not just a little bit proud of yourself,
     of the work you had done,
     of what you had been able to accomplish?
Were you not happy
     because you had done a good job?

Of course, there were other factors
     contributing to your happiness.
Perhaps these other factors
     were the main source of your happiness.
But the fact remains
     that you would not have been so pleased
     had you not been pleased with yourself,
had you not known
      that you had worked hard, and well,
     and had reached your goal.

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An excerpt from a recording I made while rehearsing this speech, May 24, 1965.  Another photo is here.

We all want happiness;
     we all search for it;
we may find it for a little while
     in pleasure,
     in entertainment,
     in "fun,"
     in all the little things we do
     to try to keep ourselves happy.

But true, lasting happiness
comes only
     through self-respect,
     through achievement,
     through giving love,
     through doing a good job.

For success,
we must work.

As we wait here tonight on this stage,
     ready to take
     the last step of our lives as children
     and the first step of our lives as adults, 
let us truly resolve that
     firm and purposeful will be that first step,
     and the next, and the next,
     and all those that follow through the years,
     the long years
     of our lives.

Let us truly resolve that
     though the path we tread be rocky,
     still we will step forward firmly
— for we will have failed
     if we step aside
     and look for an easier path.

For success,
we must work.

This is it, gang;  let’s go!

Thank you.

 

TBT

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