It is hard to believe that graduation is once again upon us. I have been thinking a lot about this significant event. I have four seniors graduating from three area high schools. Each of these young people has worked hard to reach this crossroad in his life.
What do you say to a generation of seniors who have been exploited by a system of education that is more concerned about SAT scores and grade point averages than the content and character of their person. It is frightening that we live in a world that talks about love and peace but seems more secure in supporting barbaric executions and discriminating against people who are different.
Twenty-one years ago, a frightened fourteen-year-
old American Indian boy was literally left on my doorstep. He was expelled from the Catholic High School he was attending. At fourteen, this young man was creating chaos wherever he went. He and his twin were adopted at birth, but never bonded with the adoptive family that took them in. There was one crisis after another. They never seemed to end. Each time R.T. was getting deeper into trouble.
Ultimately, because of his poor choices and a system that was inept, this fourteen year old was sent upstate for a better part of his teen years. When he was discharged at age seventeen, he was bitter, angry and more withdrawn. Although he was bright, he never finished high school. The system convinced him that he was worthless and probably would not amount to much. Until almost recently, R.T. was shackled with the belief that he was a waste of human potential. During this time he wandered from one job to the next, smoking pot and getting into trouble, largely in an effort to survive.
Every few years he would surface and reconnect. He would talk for hours about his untapped potential that I had discovered in the poetry and music he wrote when he was fourteen. He would beam when we engaged in those conversations, but in the early conversations he listened a lot, said little and barely made eye contact. His self-esteem was non-existent.
After many conversations, I reminded him that he possessed much to be proud of and that some day he was going to become someone he would be proud of. He always smiled and thanked me for my time.
In August, R.T. surfaced again. He was really broken. This time things were different. He talked. He was animated. He said he was ready to make a change. He admitted to being frightened out of his skin, but said he really wanted to try and wanted my support.
Since our last connection, R.T. did get his GED diploma. He scored rather high for someone who had no formal education after the first marking period in high school.
I asked him what he wanted to do. R.T. said he was tired of living from hand to mouth. He wanted to make a difference and wanted to feel like he was contributing something to the world. He expressed an interest in returning to school. In the fall, he started at Suffolk Community College.
After much soul searching and many conversations, he decided to study the course on becoming an interpreter for the deaf. These past two semesters R.T. has worked very hard as a full time student while working part time to support himself. A few weeks ago he showed me his college transcripts with pride. He has a 3.7 grade point average. He also showed me a letter inviting him to be a part of freshman orientation. He thanked me for not giving up on him, for believing in him, for believing that he could do it. I reminded R.T. the fact was that he did not give up on himself. That was the real key to his success.
So seniors, as you continue your journey, keep uppermost in your hearts never to give up on yourselves. Realize that being human is more important than a successful academic record. Showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice is more significant than any science formula. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand you risk all you are now for what you can become tomorrow.
Look around you. We are living in challenging times. This is the first time in your history that we have a President who was not elected by the popular vote. Your generation is moving away from the indifference and complacency of yesterday and moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility. It is happening throughout Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. It is not happening among the political elite, but among our young, our students, your peers. It does give me hope that tomorrow will be better.
As you graduate and continue your journey, keep in mind these simple thoughts: may you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace. May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world. May the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so that you may call upon them. It is the content and quality of who you are that is important, not merely the actions you take.
May you never become too concerned with material matters, but instead place immeasurable value on the goodness in your heart. Find time each day to see beauty and love in the world around you. Realize that you have limitless opportunities.
May you see your future as one filled with promise and possibility. Learn to view everything as a worthwhile experience. May you seek enough inner strength to determine your own worth and not be dependent on another's judgment of your accomplishments.
May you always seek peace and justice and work to build bridges, not walls. Live a balanced life. Learn a little, think a little, dance, play and have a sense of humor. But most of all, be aware of wonder. And when you go out into the world, hold hands and stick together.
May you always feel loved.
Congratulations graduates of 2001. Thanks for making the world a little bit brighter.