‘Making Change’ : A High School Graduation Speech at the beginning of the Obama Administration

The following was delivered as a graduation speech at Masconomet (Masco) Regional High School in June, 2009.

A few weeks ago, I attended my sister’s graduation from Wake Forest University, where Joe Biden delivered the commencement address. True to his campaign slogan, he talked a lot about change; change in our economy, our government, our environment, and our relationship with the world. But to me, the most striking message of his speech was the fact that our generation, no matter what we do, will see immense change; the type of change that is written in history books; the type of change that could forever alter the way in which the world works. “But,” he said, “you can affect that change.” So, although we may be four years behind the graduates Joe Biden was speaking to, I think the same responsibility and opportunity falls on our shoulders.

I think we’re up to the challenge.

During my time here at Masco, I have had the incredible opportunity to meet countless dedicated and interesting people who have the potential to change the world. I’ve met Lexi DeConti who creates beautiful art, whether it is on a canvas, or her French homework. I’ve met Harry Paine and Nicole Soriano who raised hundreds of dollars for breast cancer research; Sean MacDonald and Laura Kennedy who take beautiful photographs of things most people would never notice; Heather Nelson and Brooke Garnick who have volunteered countless hours to local hospitals; Emily Neidhardt who collected books and school supplies for kids in India; Kenny Ieradi, whose love for music and dedication are expressed through his artistic performances. Melanie DiGregorio who initiated her own tutoring program here at Masco that has helped numerous students pass AP Physics. And I’ve met Yanyun Xiao who will probably never stop singing, no matter what class she’s in.

I’ve also met the teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, parents, and friends who have helped all of us along the way.

My point is we don’t need to look to the politicians and diplomats of the world to see how change is made. All we need to do is look around at the people in our classes, in our clubs, on our sports teams to find those who inspire simply by doing what they love.

I think Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and Pixar, said it better than I can. “You’ve got to find what you love… the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I believe that if we all find something that we love and are passionate about, we will improve not only our generation, but also the generations to follow.

Essayist E. B. White wrote in the forward to his Book of Essays, “Each new excursion of the essayist, each new ‘attempt’ differs from the last and takes him into new country. This delights him.” We may not all be writers but each of us has an essay… something that delights us, that stretches and challenges us.

And each of us will be faced with different challenges; challenges that will force us to question ourselves and our capabilities. Some say that adversity doesn’t develop character, that it reveals character. If we find the delight in what we do and have passion for it, we will more often than not meet these challenges head on.

As a freshman, I thought the seniors had it all figured out… that they were entirely confident and comfortable in their own skin. They seemed like giants to me… not just in physical size but in the way they carried themselves and I often wondered if I could ever be like them. But the truth is, those seniors — just like you and me — had moments of vulnerability and self-doubt.

Anne Frank once wrote, “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.” Every person in this world is striving for happiness. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Steve Jobs, E.B.White, Anne Frank: They all have one thing in common: the objective of being happy. So, whenever you feel inferior to others or feel intimidated by their accomplishments, remember that we are all in search of the same thing. We all have the power to inspire someone; to make someone’s day better or worse. So let’s go for better. Let’s improve the things we can. Every person deserves a chance at happiness, and as a class, as an entire generation, we can make that a more attainable goal. Gay activist Harvey Milk, quoting the United States Constitution once said, “All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” We all laugh; we all cry. So let’s move forward together… as equals and make this community, this country, this world a place that is better than the one we have inherited.

We’re capable of extraordinary things, of producing extraordinary outcomes. We’ve already proved that and we’re only at the beginning of our journey.

So to the members of the class of 2009… do what you love; love what you do and always remember your potential is greater than you know.

Thank you very much.

Congratulations, Class of 2009 and good luck!!

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Writer. Comedian. Actor. Follow me on Twitter @CatharineSavage

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