A Graduation Speech You Need to Read

This week, Evergreen High School had their graduation ceremony at Red Rocks Amphitheater. An Evergreen teacher, Chad Mott, delivered this speech to the graduates. It is a message of hope and confidence in this next generation of young people and of optimism that tomorrow will be better. It is also a message to the rest of us to be the kind of people our kids can look up to.

I go to a lot of graduations and hear a lot of speeches. After hearing this, I knew it needed to be shared to people in Jeffco and all over this country.

Graduations are special celebrations for all those who were part of getting that young person across the stage. This one was even more so for Chad Mott – his daughter Lily was one of those Evergreen graduates.

Do one thing every day that scares you. Daunting advice from the brilliant First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Thank you, seniors, for inviting me to embrace that wisdom…speaking at Red Rocks is a truly terrifying honor.

Members of the Class of 2019, we are all happy to be here for your send-off…some even ecstatic! You see, this class has been much maligned. We’ve been warned about you since your kindergarten days, and indeed you are a class full of challenging talents and personalities, a diverse and eclectic rogues gallery the likes of which we may never see again.

And why not? This is the first class born entirely in the new millennium. Generation Z they are sometimes called, or Gen Tech, Digital Natives, Post-Millenials, the ME-ME-ME Generation, or the iGeneration, and critics everywhere cast aspersions on their character and rue the day these guys come to power.

The iGeneration, the first generation to grow up entirely immersed in the internet, engrossed and ensconced in their iPhones, Influencers, and Instagram.

Intergenerational carping is an American pastime dating back to the days of Elvis and James Dean, and perhaps shall ever be, but we in education get to see these kiddos in ways parents, and other adults seldom do and can offer a more complex and nuanced perspective. We see them at their best, flexing burgeoning intellectual muscles, flashing dramatic flair, charisma, and creativity, demonstrating compassion, and pursuing their education with intense curiosity and ambition.

Critics assail the iGen’ers as addicted to their phones and screen time, fixated on that next ping, like, swish, or tweet signaling another notification, another instant gratification or impulsive high, with attention spans rivaling five-year-olds hopped up on Pixy Stix.

And why not? The biologists among us would explain that their teenage brains are absolutely awash in dopamine. They ARE hopped up, on stimulus from intense interaction with an incredibly broad cyber community. Is that such a bad thing?

I would argue that they are also the most technologically brilliant, capable, and decisive people we’ve ever produced. We’re the ones who hesitate to click or push buttons, not them. How many of us go reflexively to them for help with technology on a daily basis?

Because of this immersion, they are also remarkably authentic, embracing adaptive change, wonderfully open-minded, dynamic, accepting, and empathetic. Their worlds are just so much bigger, more fluid, and more inclusive than we ever imagined.

Critics scream narcissism! Social media whores obsessed with likes and followers, completely devoid of interpersonal skills, real human contact, or emotional intimacy. But with constant engagement also comes self-actualization, connectivity, and instinctive collaboration that makes these guys incredibly capable and adept problem-solvers Give them a task, no matter how daunting or complex, and they will attack it with a confidence born of having a responsive network available at a touch, swipe, or post. You and I had a crew of a few good friends. They have a squad of legions at their fingertips.

And why not be different in their attitudes and approach to the world, a psychologically disparate generation? These guys have grown up in a post-9/11 terror attack world, a post-Columbine school shooting world, a world shaped by a devastating recession, a world threatened by climate change, and in a nation torn asunder by bitter tribalism and partisan bickering rivaling the years prior to civil war.

During those years, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature,” imploring us to work toward a more principled future built on equality, decency, and humanity. Today we struggle with that challenge as acutely as ever before.

Perhaps, then, instead of criticizing you, we should be apologizing to you. The nation right now is not exactly a crash course in exemplary behavior. We are not living up to Lincoln’s inspirational standard.

Instead, you live in a world dominated by social media where every bad impulse, every negative thought, every mistake, every fear and insecurity, and every roast can go viral and become devastating. People ARE standing up the indecencies, but too many simply give up or drop out, and too few in power demonstrate the courage to lead. Older generations are failing to set a moral and leadership standard for you, so you must set it for yourself and for each other.

So how do you go forward and lead? How do you affect change and become the world you wish to see? Enter the arena, as Teddy Roosevelt urged, take action, resist tribalism, respect facts, and deploy reason in your search for justice, success, and happiness.

Love what you do, love who you are. Be kind to one another and embrace the humanity of everyone, especially those you may not understand.

Remember that our history is one of change and challenges. Do not despair but rather embrace the opportunity to lead. Remember that ultimately we Americans are a big-hearted people, as is this Evergreen community, and as are all of you on this stage. We will emerge from these dark days into the light of better days, stronger and more resilient, and we count on you to lead the way.

We’re all here today because we love you, and we have the utmost faith in your character, abilities, and talents. You CAN do this, and you must.

I’d like to thank you once again, members of the Class of 2019, for this honor, for the chance to share a few special moments on this glorious stage with all of you, and for the opportunity to forge a wonderful memory with my favorite senior.

Thank you all so very much.

One thought on “A Graduation Speech You Need to Read

  1. While meant to be encouraging, and no doubt effective for many, it does rely on some unfortunate stereotypes. Rather than suggest that the young enter a new world with internet expertise, it wouldn’t hurt to remind them that it is not so much how we are able to communicate, but what we communicate. Skill with the thumbs on a smartphone might be laudable, but expressing worthwhile content should be the objective.
    “Intergenerational carping” extends much farther back than Elvis and James Dean. Every generation has been challenged with learning from history and imagining, what might be ahead.

    Like

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