When I sat down to write this graduation speech, I did what any child of the nineties would do in my situation — I went on Google. I typed “best graduation speeches ever” into the search tab and spent the next two hours watching low-quality YouTube videos of commencement speeches by Steve Jobs, Will Ferrell and other people I have nothing in common with. So because I have not yet founded a major computer company and also because I have inherited my mother’s inability to remember jokes properly, I decided to do something that is difficult for many people — including myself. I am going to try to be honest with you. Not because I have stumbled upon any overwhelming message of truth, but because I figure if I mess up while being honest it is still better than speaking perfectly about things I don’t believe.
I understand that I will only get this opportunity once in my life, and I figure now is the best time to come clean about a few things. To my stepmom Judi: you know those Club Monaco jeans that you have been looking for for the last two months and thought you lost? I actually did borrow them without asking and I’m sorry, they’re in my room. To Janie, Nica and the entire girls’ lacrosse team: that time I missed the boat to go to the game — I was running late on purpose because I really just wanted to go play soccer. And to Dad and Mom: all those hundreds of times I assured you, “I know what I’m doing, thanks,” I really had no idea.
I don’t think any of us walk across this stage with complete confidence in what we are about to do, where we are headed or even how we are going to get there. Inevitably it will involve taking the boat, but beyond that most of us are just Island kids about to leave home and live in proximity to real-world marvels known as fast-food restaurants, all-night pharmacies and maybe even a Christmas Tree Shop. I am particularly nervous because I am from West Tisbury, a town where the closest we get to fast food is the night our parents heat up organic frozen chicken nuggets, which are actually tofu but we don’t usually figure that out until we are at least twelve. I am wondering how I am going to survive in a world where I have to lock my car, considering the fact that mine has been stolen once already and I still can’t seem to take the keys with me once I park. This trust is the blessing/curse/paradox of growing up on Martha’s Vineyard. It is the reason my parents didn’t kill me when they found out I had been hitchhiking — because I told them that I was with Micah’s dog and that I always got picked up by someone I knew. No matter how far we Islanders roam and how long we might stay away, it would be impossible not to retain some of that Vineyard-ness in our hearts. It is what will bring us back every summer until our parents tell us we really can’t be living at home anymore.
In writing this speech I wanted to be honest, but I also wanted something else. I wanted to make my parents cry. And although I understand how corny that sounds, it still didn’t stop me from wondering “is that going to do it?” after every single line I wrote. Eventually I realized that even though I probably can’t make your parents cry, my parents are going to cry no matter what I say. Just because I’m their daughter. I think all the parents gathered here today know what I’m talking about. The fact that your child has made it to this graduation should make you prouder than anything, because regardless of where they are sitting or how many pins they might have on their gowns or whether they made their bed this morning or not at all for the past eighteen years . . . none of that makes them any more or less qualified to walk across this stage today. None of that matters today when we are all wearing pretty much the same thing and everyone hugs everyone and we all get that identical piece of paper telling us, congratulations, you can start acting your age now.
So thank you to my classmates, for the seven hundred and twenty days we already spent inside Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. I am still young and I have no idea how to measure a life, but my years at the high school have made me absolutely positive that it is not with grades. I wish I had known that eight years ago when I would cry if my poster got smudged, and maybe then I would have spent more time sledding and less time being a perfectionist. If we graduate today having learned lessons of loyalty, morality and kindness in the halls and classrooms of this high school, then we have received an education not only in academics but in life. It would be a shame to let anyone devalue this education simply because you cannot bubble any of those qualities in on the MCAS exam.
I am left with no advice to give, but rather a question to be answered, possibly the last one you will ever have to think about as a student of this high school. To my classmates: will you be the ones who are there not only for your friends, but for those who need you, will you make the decision to do what is right even when no one is around to care, and do you have patience to go through this world with an open mind?
Lastly, I could not end this speech without mentioning Mrs. Regan, who is also graduating today. I think it is rare in this world to find an adult who is so aware of the fact that just because you are in charge doesn’t mean you have to tell people what to do. Congratulations and good luck to everyone as you try to find your way in this world.
Rachel Schubert is student council president.