The Paly Voice acquired the following speeches from their authors, with their authors’ consent to publish. The authors wrote the speeches with the intention of delivering them at graduation, but were not selected by a panel of staff members. The views stated in these speeches do not necessarily reflect the views of The Paly Voice, nor those of its staff.
Graduation Speech by Jack Brook
Good evening everyone, I’m honored to be standing up here tonight. Although we’re all still very young, I do feel like there is one very important lesson I’ve learned so far that is worth sharing.
What I’ve learned is that we need to confront and prepare for the fact that over the course of the next four years (and the rest of our lives) there are going to be people who are critical of us and the things we do. I know that many of us, including myself, have received a lot of support and praise but in college and in the real world, our parents aren’t always going to be there to pat us on the back and say “Great job honey.”
Now I learned this lesson the hard way one summer at a filmmaking camp.
I came in to the camp intending to learn how to make emotional films and develop as an artist but was told that instead of art, what I had been making before was merely “entertainment.” (A little bit of context: The movie that got me into this camp was about a talking cat; that’s the type of filmmaker I was).
Here’s the problem though: I really liked making movies about things like talking cats and before this camp other people had also really liked them. But my film camp teachers were not amused by talking cats.
And the moment I realized that they didn’t like what I did, I tried super hard to win their approval. I watched my peers soar to new creative heights as I stood by helpless, weighted down by doubt and insecurity. I’m not going to lie, the films I did make at the camp were pretty darn bad.
In four weeks, I went from making quirky comedies to instead attempting to create interpretive filmography about haikus.
I languished miserably and it was an absolutely devastating experience. I didn’t make another film for five months afterwards.
I’ll pause my story for just a minute. From my understanding of things, nearly everyone who eventually does something they’re really truly proud of seems to have this moment of crisis. A time where you doubt yourself; where you look around and see other people doing things better than you; where you question whether or not you’re good enough; whether you are worthy.
I mean, look at Elvis: The first time he performed, he was told he would be better off going back to being a truck driver than a singer. Or J.K. Rowling. She was rejected 12 times before someone agreed to publish Harry Potter. And of course there is Walt Disney, who was fired from his first job because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” The list of successful people who were originally told that what they were doing wasn’t good literally goes on forever.
Anyway, as I was saying, I left pretty devastated from that summer camp. I thought about it for a long time and one day I realized that during the camp all those films that I made were simply constructions of what I thought other people, my teachers, wanted to see. I never made anything that I was passionate about.
The difference between Elvis and me is that Elvis stuck with his vision and didn’t change it when somebody suggested otherwise. I tailored my vision to what I thought someone else wanted.
When I finally realized this, it was like a eureka moment. The best way to recover from my months of misery, I figured, was to simply cast it all away and go back to working on things I was passionate about. So then I thought, what is it deep down in my heart of hearts that I want to make? And then it came to me: I’m going to make a movie about a competitive eating prodigy. A young boy striving to become a hot dog eating champion.
Let me tell you something: The most fun I have ever had in my life was making this movie. Dozens and dozens of hot dogs were consumed, pies were swallowed and asparagus was slurped. I was also humbled by the fact that many of my friends and their parents were willing to step in and help me out. After weeks of shooting, I had my movie.
And you know what the best part was? I was making that movie for nobody but myself.
Needless to say, I regained my love of making movies and became a much better filmmaker in the process. Now I know all of us have different interests, whether in theater or STEM or writing or athletics or robotics or something else entirely, but I think we all need to remember that when we’re doing something we love, that we feel passionate about, we can’t look to other people for validation. Instead, we need to look inwards and think: Is what I’m doing going to make me happy? Is it something that I’m doing for me, and not for someone else?
Don’t try to be somebody that you’re not. Don’t quit at what you like to do. It’s up to you to decide whether or not what you’re doing, or what you want to do, is worthy. And if you haven’t found your passion yet, dare to explore and don’t turn back if someone sneers or makes fun of you.
Even if you want to make videos about talking cats and hot dog eating prodigies.