By Kyle Hanford, English Teacher
Originally presented during Senior Dinner on Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Good evening. To begin, I want to thank Mr. Hill, Ms. Sage, Mr. Martin, the dining staff, and the wait staff for tonight’s meal. Nothing was left to chance, and it was excellent.
To the senior class, I want to say that I am both humbled and honored that you have chosen me to speak to you this evening. I think all educators go through moments in their careers when they wonder if they are making a difference, if they are reaching students, if they matter. And to be honest, when you are new to a school, all you are trying to do is to not screw up bad enough so they tell you that you can’t come back.
And since I’m being honest tonight, I can tell you that of those of you in the audience who had me the first day of classes this year, I was just trying to get through the day without too many eye rolls, groans, and “Where’d they get THIS guy?” comments. Think of it from my position: you are returning to a school that you went to for one year as a post graduate. It’s been 15 years since you’ve left and you are facing a group of confident and bright seniors, some of whom have been at the school for six years, about to teach them about “the essay.” Of my two senior classes in the fall, I can only come to three conclusions: one: You really liked me; two: you are SUPERB liars, or three: I completely duped you.
The great thing about you all was that you made me feel welcome from the beginning and it has been something that has made the first year of my journey at Williston so smooth.
So what does one talk about at a senior dinner? I think the only time recently that I have been on center stage was on my wedding day, and to be honest, most of the guests were looking at my wife and trying to cut me out of most of their pictures. Needless to say, no one was looking for a speech from me. So what do I talk about at a senior dinner?
Should I start out by publicly admitting to James Porceilli that I was wrong and he was right yesterday in our poetry class?
Do I talk about Jeff Fellion, Chad Adams and their “Power Hour” in the weight room where they lift with their shirts off and then forget to put the weights away?
Do I brag about how I challenged Danny Rowe to a running race around the track but how he complained of an ingrown toe nail and then conceded the race to a short, overweight 33-year-old in the twilight of a mediocre athletic career?
Do I talk about Tank 5?
Should I even consider mentioning how Rachel Fechser should have gone right from middle school to college?
And how could I not mention Jake Merjan, Mr. Filter himself?
Should I announce that Matty Dupont and Addison Morse have started a new line of skateboards hitting your local skate shop in 2013 or…
that Emily Pettingil’s taxi will gladly be taking students to Mr. Hill’s house later this evening for desert?
I don’t know, this is totally new to me!
Then I think, maybe I should remind you all of Tyler Metz and his passion for hanging out in his Speedo during study hall or how I think Tom Chandler voice overs for TV commercials because of his silky smooth voice.
Speaking of voices, how can I not give a nod to Kate and Addie’s pipes, Sarah Hubbard’s fiddlin’, and the rest of the seniors in “Fiddler”?
What about the fact that Brandon Diaz has a tattoo that says “Diaz Brothers” and that I really want to ask him if he would tattoo “Hanford and the Diaz Brothers” onto his arm so I can feel the close bond of brotherhood since my brother lives in LA.
Brandon, I’ll pay for it!
I really feel like I should really be up here reading a love poem from Alex Nunnelly to his Jeep.
Maybe I can talk about the post-graduates and then I realize that you guys already graduated, why should we be celebrating a group who needed two senior years? The irony is that I was one too!
What about how at a morning meeting, Hansen Yang single-handedly usurped Mr. Hing’s China trip by announcing his own—a better one!
Should I mention Ms. Century club herself, Kathyrn Tomaselli?
Should I boast about Williston being a feeder school for all things Big Ten where Bridget, Caitlyn, and Sarah will be taking their athletic talents to the next level?
Should I mention the scholastics who will be heading to the Big Ten as well?
Can I talk about how on the first day of Transcendentalism, while calling attendance, I made the mistake of saying “Carl Vik – hey, Vik, like the quarterback!” only to hear a cold reply, “It’s Marcus Veek.”
Or how Mrs. Hanford and I went to school with Nicole Palmero’s sister!
What about when Lexi Duseau wrote on John Woodside’s car “Prom? “ I later asked him “I bet you can’t wait to get that off your car” He sheepishly nodded. The next day I asked him if he was going to go to prom with Lexi and he—sheepishly nodded.
Do I need to mention that Simon is always running around before my class stressed about plans that he is making for next November?
Do I need to bring up Mr. Sam “Annoy a liberal: Work hard, be happy,” Goldsmith?
Should I wax about how Walter McLaughlin looks kickin’ in his white Caddie and that I would challenge any other senior to look as sweet?
Maybe I could applaud all the martyrs of the senior class who have been so vocal in their disgust for the new class schedule (as if it really matters to them anyway!)
Again, these are just ideas but I don’t know what I’m doing!
Then I think—no, I’m not going to do that. It just wouldn’t be right to call out seniors in front of their peers and especially in front of the administration and faculty. So forget everything I just said. Maybe I should go pro-senior/anti administration speech. Maybe I need to be the voice for the senior class; the one to air their grievances. So administration, listen up!
Cell phones—they NEED them during study hall. Case closed. Twelve o’clock check-in? The good stuff in Easthampton only starts after eleven! More social time? THAT’s what their parents are PAYING for!
Wait! No, I’m not going down that road—too risky for a first-year teacher. I’ve got kids to feed.
Then I stop: maybe this speech should be about what is important to me. What I have learned since my graduation from Williston in 1997? Maybe this will work:
One: People Are Amazing!
Jack Kerouac wrote in On the Road “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” These are the people I want to be around. They have a passion for living, for exisiting! Be this person and seek out others who embody this; you will never live a dull life!
Two: Who You Are Matters
You have the power to make a difference! Believe this with all of your heart. When you throw a pebble into the ocean, you have CHANGED the ocean, not much, but it is now different because of you. Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close about this when he talks about moving a grain of sand in the Sahara Desert. “If you hadn’t done it,” the father tells his son “human history would have been one way…so…?” To which his son responds “I changed the course of human history!” The interactions you have with your family, your friends, complete strangers, the world, have the power to ultimately change them forever. This is a tremendous power—cherish this.
Three: Find and Embrace Opportunities to Do Good and Make Others Feel Welcome and Important
Mother Theresa said “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” It’s so easy to disregard the newcomer, the loner, the person different from you. I ask you to embrace the challenge of going out of your way for another. To know that I have made a difference in someone’s life has made my life that more fruitful.
Four: Live in the Present
Thoreau wrote “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” Ferris Bueller once said “Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you may miss it.” Starting tomorrow, you have 25 days until graduation and then you will be gone. Don’t wish away these next three and half weeks. Savor them.
I love walking home from dinner with Lindsay and the boys and seeing you all outside of Mem or Ford playing games and hanging out because it reminds me of what was so special about my time here: the relationships that were formed. In 25 years, you will not remember many of the classes you took in your final weeks at Williston or how many goals you scored in your final weeks at Williston or what song you sang at your final concert at Williston. What you will remember are the people and the experiences and emotions that you shared with them. You will never get this time back.
Finally: Remember where you came from. In these next few weeks, take the time to thank your parents and people that made this experience possible. Without them, your paths would have been different, maybe not better, maybe not worse, but different.
At times in the 21st Century, it feels like we are living in a Gatsby-esque world where people are so focused on accumulating things that their morals and concern for others are left behind in a present-day “Valley of Ashes.” As a result, there is often unhappiness and pain. I implore you as you all begin a new chapter in your lives to seek happiness outside of the all-mighty dollar and inside of the people and the world around you. I promise you that you will not be disappointed. Bob Marley said: “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
Thank you again for a wonderful evening and for having me as your speaker. Good luck and God bless you in your travels.