Hello Class of 2016, faculty and staff, trustees, my mom in the back, and more faculty and staff.
Over the summer, I was asked to speak to all of you guys—that’s why I’m up here looking kinda nervous, if you were wondering. For those of you that don’t know me, I usually look a little more tan and lot less sweaty. For those of you that do know me—please don’t tell the people that this is what I normally look like. Thanks in advance.
Anyways, I was super excited to write another essay over the summer, like majorly pumped, totally stoked. Uh, no—really, I’m extremely flattered to be up here with the opportunity to speak for five minutes straight without anyone making me stop.
Okay, here we are! Senior year. I came to Williston in 8th grade, so that makes me a five year senior which is pretty unusual—quick shout out to Sarah, Pinky, Davis, and Amelia for being the other four. I like to think that I’ve grown a lot since then… but the truth is I’m only a quarter of an inch taller than I was before. Let’s be real, you’ve probably all grown a lot more than I have over the past few years. I actually piled up all of the books I’ve used in my time here, and the pile was significantly taller than I was. There’s a picture on Twitter if you don’t believe me. Why did I do that, you might ask? Solely to make that joke.
I’m genuinely excited to be a senior. I mean, it’s been a pretty long road to get to this point—if you came in ninth grade and took five classes every trimester, you’ve taken 45 finals already. Yeah, that’s right, I did math for this speech. You’re welcome, Mr. Seamon. But honestly, we’ve come so far, individually and as a class it’s hard to even comprehend at this point.
Hello and once again welcome to everyone who is here today.
For the first time, perhaps in my life, I feel wise. I feel as though, by this point in time, I have gained enough knowledge, gone through enough personal experiences, succeeded and failed enough times, that I have accumulated at least some valuable information that others can truly benefit from hearing. And of course, as I continue to grow, so will this wisdom, but for now, I am honored to be given the opportunity to share with you today some of these things that I have learned. `
Now, the graduating class already know what this speech is about. But for the rest of you here, and for those who have forgotten, let me recap: this speech, it’s going to be odd. This speech, it’s going to be different. And I hope, more than anything, that this speech will be memorable. Because, you see, too often I have witnessed speeches become lost in their own words – perhaps eloquently written, but in the years or even days following, you can’t seem to remember what they were about, you cannot recall those reflections, life lessons, and stories that the speaker referred to and referenced. The challenging part however, about trying to write a memorable speech for graduation is that it is impossible to expect one person to sum up the infinitely diverse experiences of many into a single, all-encompassing, climactic address – and so faced with this challenge, I cheated.
How much are we going to miss this place? Now that’s a good question. So good, in fact, that there is no clear answer. For any of us.
I think sometimes, we’re going to miss the campus, I think sometimes we’re going to miss competing in a Williston uniform, I think sometimes we’re going to miss that ineffably comforting vibe every Williston classroom exudes, I think sometimes we’re going to miss the people that make Williston Williston, and I think sometimes we’re going to miss signing every sheet that doesn’t cover our bed before battling the world beyond Nini’s.
Okay, that last one was a bit of a stretch, but the one before that, yep, I think that’s the one. That’s what we have to cherish. That’s what we’ll carry with us forever. Our relationships. The ones we’ve all founded with peers, faculty, and staff that have shaped our time here.
Editor’s note: The following spoken word piece was performed by Verdi Degbey during the Diversity Symposium keynote on Friday, February 20, 2015 in Phillips Stevens Chapel.
This is my self-reclamation.
I was a pumpkin.
The world picked me up prematurely
And placed me on its operation table
Where its people quickly went to work.
Pulling out my roots, the seeds inside of me,
And carving onto my skin the things they wanted me to be.
About a year ago, I spit my first lines,
I called it “OREOS”.
I was really trying to tell you my story bro,
But you only liked my rhymes, you didn’t really get it though.
Instead, you said “Dang” when you heard me,
You called me a poet, Said “you’re an artist, Verdi”
But you just liked the rhymes, not the story
And that hurt me.
Then you tried tell me what to write, man, you don’t own me.
Yeah, you’ve heard some of my stories, but you still don’t know me.
Because if you did, you wouldn’t label me like you do.
Because as much as I aspire to inspire you,
I do this to fight a war inside myself.
I do this to find friends
I do this to try to get some help.
You see, in these words,
These words that I speak,
These words that I leak,
These words that I preach,
I’m just trying to find someone who goes through the same things as me.
And they say that’s what makes it art, but this is not artistry,
To be honest, my performances are reworded entries to diaries.
And they call me a poet, a master of words,
But really, I’m just another kid.
I just like to hide behind my metaphors and similes,
And pretend that my life is in perfect symmetry
And I do try my best in everything I can,
But I’m just waiting for people to tell me how amazing I am.
Welcome to convocation. This speech is divided into three sections—the three S’s if you will—Socrates, “Success,” and Summing Up.
Part One: Socrates
Since it’s the start of another academic year, it’s probably appropriate that we engage with the big Socratic question right off the bat. That is: What course of life is best? A question that Socrates directed toward Calacles, a sophist – a person not in pursuit of virtue — in Plato’s masterpiece, “The Republic.”
From my humble perspective, the answer to that existential question — What course of life is best? — is that we acknowledge the convergence between our own personal pursuits and the moral obligations that we owe to others for our privileged positions as members of the Williston community. That convergence between our personal and moral obligations is, at least for me, where the answer to the question – What course of life is best? — lies. In addition, our answer to the essential Socratic question inculcates us with — as Mr. Hill likes to remind us — purpose, passion, and integrity.