The speeches that didn't make it, Class of 2013: Part VII

Allison Cowie, Author

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. Each speech went through an evaluation process on May 21 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 Alexander Jenson

 

Hold on, let me get into character…

This is my commencement speech.

My speech opens with comical statement to break the ice, letting everyone know that, although I am behind the podium and you are in front of it, we are not so different. Look at how friendly I am. Look at this honest face. You might even trust me with your daughter.

I then lead seamlessly into a cliché and symbolic parable. The parable introduces a young and naive character coming in contact with a wise man. The young protagonist presents a question, to which the wise man, being as wise as he is, presents a cryptic answer. Our relatable young character is confused. This is not the answer we expected! Then, with smug condescension, the wise man reveals how blind and ignorant the our relatable youth is. The audience smiles and nods thoughtfully at the clear astuteness and perception of the wise man.

I now segue into a more personal, yet still relatable anecdote relating the young character’s confusion to my own. I recount the many instances where I too felt lost and misguided. My story is very sincere, as you can see. Look at how sincere my face is. To show that these very real experiences do not deter me from having a positive outlook, I make a funny, clever joke and laugh modestly.

*laughs modestly*

And scene.

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls, children of all ages. My name is Alexander Jenson, and today I am graduating.

This is where you guys applaud.

My speech so far has been a good example of the exceptionally okay. The remarkably adequate. A suitable speech that leaves everyone satisfied buy no one curious. Any high school could prepare my to write an adequate address, but Paly has taught me more than that. My experience at Paly has taught me not how to write a well organized speech, but a speech that communicates. A speech that reflects who I am, and what I want to say. And may or may not be fairly well organized as well. If you will humor me for a minute or two, I am going to make things personal.

When I came to Palo Alto High School in 2009, I was different.

Freshman year Alexander was a sight to behold, as an unfortunate amount of you all can probably account for. Imagine this, but 6 inches shorter, 20 pounds heavier, 200% more acne and 100% less self-confidence. Then add ill-fitted, thick rimmed glasses that made Truman Capote’s look like contact lenses, and you have a pretty good idea.

While I looked different, I also saw the world in a different way. Instead of potential friends, I regarded my new peers as potential threats. Social anxiety kept me quiet in class and reserved during conversations. My philosophy centered around three key tenants:

    – Don’t speak unless spoken to

    – Confide only in adults

    – Avoid any physical activity that will reveal too much skin.

See, I had just made a pretty large leap in my life. I had just left my hometown in Minnesota, and with it my old group of peers. I say “peers” and not “friends” for a straightforward reason: they did not treat me well.

As anyone will tell you, middle school is a hard time, but it can be made even harder when you don’t know what a healthy friendship looks like. I attempted to make friends by giving away my things and following blindly with others’ ideas, solely because I wanted to please. It took me years to figure out that those that I had called friends for so long, didn’t really like me, so much as they found me convenient. And I was okay with that. To quote the greatest work of fiction in our generation:

    “We only accept the love we think we deserve.”

That… that was The Perks of Being  Wallflower by the way.

Regardless, I came to California with some heavy luggage in tow.

I can never hope to speak for a class of 500. But, I can speak as one of 500 in saying that the last four years at 50 Embarcadero Road has been the largest period of learning in my life.

What both students and parents tend to overlook in our secondary school education is the value of lessons learned outside the classroom. We haven’t spent four years at Paly to memorize arbitrary trivia, but rather to prepare us socially and mentally for the trials and tribulations of adulthood. Sure, I can tell you the names of every noble gas from lightest to heaviest in mass, but I doubt any of you guys would want to hear thatHelium Neon Argon Krypton Xenon Radon.

Additionally, I can now diffuse a tense situation among my friends and meet a deadline. It is the more general life skills that we acquire during our time here  that help us shape our true selves and, in the end, prepare us for our future as modern homo sapiens.

In three months I will be leaving Palo Alto, California. I will be placed in an alien place with alien people that do not understand the world as I do. I will not have the safety net of a loving family, nor the comfort of a hometown. You won’t have them either.  And it will be terrifying.

What we will have, however, is the wisdom and self-awareness that our four years at Paly have given us. We will be able to spy an unhealthy friendship, or decide for ourselves if the will of others is true the will of ourselves. Countless other lessons have we learned, and each and every one will aid us not only in our immediate post-graduation plans, but for our forever after.

So take a minute to reflect, not on the textbooks and the essays, but on the small and seemly meaningless interactions we experienced a dozen times a day. Appreciate the sweet utility of our every moment here, even if it seemed inconsequential at the time. And in that way, by appreciating the past while stepping into the future, we can call the future our own.

Thank you for listening.

Click to find Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V and Part VI.