Valedictory Address, given May 18, 2001

    “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and on behalf of your captain, I would like to welcome you to Flight 2001 of Reality Airways.  Destination:  Unknown.  Estimated time of arrival:  To be determined.  We ask that you find your seat as quickly as possible.  Please, make sure it is the right place for you, as finding your place is essential.  We will be cruising at an altitude determined by the heights of your aspirations, so out of concern for yourself and others, set them high.
     “We will give you no safety instructions, as safety is ultimately your decision.  Turbulence will occur throughout the duration of the flight.  You will experience motion sickness and/or injuries ranging from mild to severe.  These problems will have to be attended to at your discretion.
     “In the probable event that this plane will crash, flotation devices cannot be found under your seat cushion.  It is your decision whether to sink or swim.  We are sorry for any inconveniences caused, but unfortunately, this is Reality.  Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your Life.”
     Fellow Seniors:  we are the passengers on this plane of Life.  We have embarked on this journey together, privileged to have shared these seats beside each other.  Along the way, we have shared many experiences that we will pack into our hearts, minds, and suitcases. We fold each memory neatly and study them carefully, remembering the sights, smells, sounds, and feelings.  Among the experiences we have shared:  Four Homecomings.  Remember how awkward we were our freshman year?  Two proms—the excitement of dressing up in our finest and staying out all night.  Two Ring Days—one receiving, and one giving.  Forty some-odd football games.  Remember the excitement of that last game we won?  Neither do I.  Hundreds more track and swim meets, volleyball, basketball, baseball, soccer, and softball games.  How many times was it that the members of each team stood here and this same podium and asked everyone to “please come out, and keep us in your thoughts and prayers?”  Many more band concerts, choir concerts, plays, and ceremonies celebrating our rich arts department.  Something creative was always going on.   Hundreds of tests, quizzes, papers, exams, and projects.  We thought the cycle would never end.  Many teachers we loved, and a few we didn’t.  And one girl, probably the only person to ever regain consciousness after losing it in the lethal injection room at Angola State Penitentiary.  She can tell you from personal experience that Angola Prison Hospital “Ain’t no place to be.”
     Our packing list goes on and on.  Aside from the specifics, we have shared many friendships, laughter, excitement, tears, and pain together.  Each experience that we have had has strengthened us, serving as a building block for those that we will encounter later in life.
     Right now, we are together for what may be the last time.  We are at a transition point:  the layover between leaving our small plane for much larger ones.   Soon, we will all be searching for our places in Existence, discovering who we want to be and what we want to do.  We pray to avoid turbulence, struggle to survive in case of crashes, and try to fly to the heights of our goals.  Our final destinations are as of yet unknown.  Along the way, we will crash, and we will soar.  Now is the time for us to prepare for the real journey that lies ahead.  Even though we may not be prepared to make that change, we must, as the future waits for no one.
     Seniors, I encourage you to give the future much thought.  Remember Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”  I know tenth grade English was beyond the limits of some of our attention spans, but consider what Frost had to say about his choice:
     “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
     And I, I took the one less traveled by-
     And that has made all the difference.”
     As we ourselves stand here at the “two roads diverging in a yellow wood,” we realize that we have two options.  We can take the familiar path, and choose to remain anonymous in society, or we can take the unfamiliar path, and make ourselves into individuals.
     Individualism is a choice that no one can make for you:  choosing yourself involves your consent.  Choosing yourself involves following your dreams, and never losing faith in yourself.  This may require overcoming many obstacles, but the end result is well worth the struggle.
     I have a story about a little girl who overcame such obstacles.  Once, there was a baby girl who was born too soon.  Like a baby chick, she was kept in an incubator and relied on many machines.  Her fragile body did not work properly, and the technology of the time was not yet advanced enough to ensure her survival.  The doctor told her parents that,  in the slim chance that she lived, she would be sickly and behind her classmates throughout school.  She would likely be mentally retarded and possibly blind or deaf.
     These words disheartened the new parents, but they loved their daughter all the same.  They encouraged her to grow and explore life with curiosity and ambition.  As she grew, she gained an eagerness for life and a drive to succeed at any cost.  Soon, she grew strong and healthy.  She proved herself brilliant, with above average performance in school.  Determined to beat any odds that surrounded her, she strove to excel in all that she undertook.  Slowly but surely, she developed her dreams and pursued them with confidence.  Ultimately, the successes she achieved paralleled the desire within her.
     But the thing she wanted most in her life was to find the doctor who had delivered the gut wrenching news.  She wanted to prove the magnitude of his errors, and show him that her premature birth was merely an indication of her early desire to begin a successful life.  She wanted to show him that anything was possible with dreams and an insatiable appetite for success.
     And now she stands her tonight, as she is awarded one of the highest honors of Episcopal High School.  She is an example of success, proving to herself and the world that she can achieve anything.
     I see a little bit of this girl in all of us.  I encourage you, Seniors, not to listen to what others say about you.  If someone tells you, “you can’t run that fast,” run faster.  If someone tells you, “you can’t jump that high,” jump higher.  And if someone tells you, “you aren’t smart enough,” ace the test with flying colors.  I have confidence that we are all capable of running faster and jumping higher that many of our peers have before.
     So, Classmates, when we choose what path to take, choose the path that leads to self-discovery.  Choose the plane with the final destination of “You.”
     I feel that this quote from Henry David Thoreau best expresses this idea:  “I have learned that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life that he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”  In spiritual terms, size does not matter.  Dreams can be as big or small as you want them to, as long as they are yours and you approach them self-assuredly.  It is our choice to follow our dreams, and I hope that you all will choose the dreams you want the most.  In the words of the poet Langston Hughes, “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.  Hold fast to dreams, for when dreams go, life is a barren field frozen with snow.”  I want to encourage you all to hold fast to your dreams, for dreams are what make life soar like birds and grow rich with the flowers of spring.
     I want to thank you all for giving me the opportunity to achieve my immediate dreams here at Episcopal.  Learning new things always energizes me, and I am overwhelmingly pleased to be rewarded for my efforts in this way.  I want to thank you all, students and faculty, for creating such wonderful memories and making the journey pleasant.  Most of all, I want to thank my parents for all that they have given me.  Without their encouragement, I could not have achieved success of any kind.  Seniors, it has been a privilege and an honor sharing these times with you, and I hope that one day we will be able to share in them again.  I wish you all the best of luck next year and in the future.  I love you, and may God bless you.  Now go on, get on that plane, and grab hold of your dreams.