Friday, June 04, 2004

Sam's Speech

My son, Sam, graduated from high school last weekend, and he was selected by his class to deliver a speech at the graduation ceremony. I'm proud of him. Here's his speech:
Hi. For those of you who don’t know me, you’re most likely wondering who I am and why I’m up here. For those of you who do know me, you’re probably wondering something along the lines of - “how pathetic is the senior class that the best person they can throw up there is Sam Ryan?”. It’s a good question, but one I can’t answer.
Like I said - I’m Sam Ryan, and I started at Pembroke in my freshman year. My experiences with Pembroke go back well before that, though. When I was in elementary school, I went to Volker, a public school down State Line a bit. And every day when we went to school, I would look out the window, gaze longingly at the Pembroke Hill campus, turn to my father, and ask “Daddy, can we run over rich kids in the crosswalk?”.
Things have changed a lot since then. For four years, I’ve parked in Pembroke Hill parking lots, squeezing my Geo Prizm between BMWs and Jeeps. For four years, I’ve watched as my fellow students spent more on Pembroke Hill flip-flops than I spent on entire ensembles. And for four years I’ve endured the glances I got from people when I tell them “I go to Pembroke Hill.” And yet now, here I am, graduating from Pembroke Hill. Somehow, over the last four years, I’ve become one of you, and what’s even more shocking than that is that I like it.
I was one of the yearbook’s text editors this year – unless you felt that a caption was offensive, in which case Kjerstin Johnson is solely at fault – and one of the challenges we faced was trying to link the experiences of the entire student body – from Kindergarteners to the Senior class – and while most of our teachers would doubt a mental gap, the differences are so extreme that to describe what it is to be the Pembroke Hill student is nearly impossible. For me, being a Pembroke Hill student was scary at first. My friends from my old school laughed at me, and I assumed that the rich kids would laugh too – and running them over wouldn’t be a solution anymore. I told people I was going to Pembroke Hill with a shrug at best, and tended to avoid acting too excited.
This probably all seems fairly negative for a graduation speech, and since I’m not sure if it’s too late for the administration to revoke my diploma, I’ll get to the positive part. We’ve all very lucky to have gone here. Whether we took advantage of every opportunity or slept through every class, we’ve had chances that kids at no other area high schools have. We get all the best aspects of being a small school at the same time as we have the opportunities to deal with great teachers, strong programs, and dedicated students. Being at Pembroke Hill doesn’t always make a lot of sense – every time I see a girl in UGG boots or a guy in a filthy white baseball cap, I question our collective sanity, and all of you parents who bought your kids massive SUVs, I hope you guys own stock in Texaco – but being at Pembroke Hill, for all its pains and absurdities, has been one of the best experiences of my life.
I've always heard never to trust people who say that high school was one of the best experiences of their lives – apparently, they’re moronic at best, and after three minutes of listening to me speak, you’re free to agree – but Pembroke is a deceptively fun place. As a person who takes nothing seriously, especially not important things like Statistics class, advisory meetings, or graduation speeches - as a person who takes nothing seriously, the lesson I’m here to pass along (that’s right, there is a lesson, so you kids on the bleachers, listen up) is that coming to Pembroke was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life. I came here knowing exactly three people, and was entirely unable to imagine how I could ever be a “Pembroke Hill student”. For a while it was a mystery. I did well in my classes, I made friends, I got involved with the theatre program.
But I didn’t learn anything until I stopped taking things so seriously and trying to look at them through a “Pembroke Hill” lens instead of a “Sam Ryan” lens. The moment I became a true Pembroke Hill student was during elections during my sophomore year. While other kids got up and gave speeches about how much they really wanted to be student government representative at large – a position no one really wants, unless your college transcript was as bad as mine – I got up for my speech and sang a version of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it on” with the lyrics changed to “Let’s Vote Me On”. It didn’t matter whether I won or lost at that point – although I did kick ass, big time – what mattered was that at that moment, there I was – a Pembroke Hill student.
Obviously not everyone should get onstage and sing a song – no one else would be able to pull it off like I did, anyway – but everyone should take one of those chances you wouldn’t get to take at another school, no matter how ridiculous or dangerous it seems. The Pembroke Hill motto is “Freedom with Responsibility”, and how many schools still care about the concept of freedom? Sure. You’ll annoy teachers, administrators will walk by you a little faster in the halls, and you’ll most likely have classmates who don't like or get what you're doing. But do it anyway. Submit your poem to the Garret. Start your Ultimate Frisbee team. Drop math – or science – or foreign language – and take something you love, or think you might love. Or drop your study hall and take all three – speaking from experience, the only thing I got done in my study hall was flirting with sophomore girls.
Go ahead – change something about yourself or others. Don’t cop out and accept the perception that high school is a time just to do what’s prescribed for you. That’s the chance Pembroke Hill gave me, and the reason I’ve appreciated the last four years. So thanks for the last four years and thanks for listening to me for the last five minutes. Have a good night.


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