Wednesday, May 27, 2015

To The Class of 2015

For the last five years, I've written a "graduation speech that wasn't" on the blog. We don't even really have a speech at our high school's graduation anymore, but if I had a chance, here's what I'd say to the class of 2015:

I’m struggling to keep up with you. This is the first year I’ve noticed. Once during my first year of teaching, one student asked a classmate listening to a “walkman”—“What are you listening to?”  The student replied, “nothing anybody in here would recognize except Mr. Turner.” Not any more. I still think of Pearl Jam as new music.

I’ve finally reached the age of jumping the chasm across the generation gap, and when I look back to the other side it often leaves me confused. Here’s what I see that is different—not worse, just different.

You expect things to start faster. I used to wait for my favorite show every week, sit through a 1-3 minute elaborate theme song, tolerate a short commercial break, and then enjoy the slow build up to the main plot of the show. Today we binge watch shows online, that mostly start with a cold open, right in the middle of the action.

You don’t have to plan ahead.. When I was a teenager, if you showed up late, or even worse, if someone else was on the phone, our plan for the weekend could end before it even started. Today, we just send a text when we’re ready to meet.

You can legitimately outsource some responsibility. As a teenager and young adult, I had to keep up with class handouts, and later on, my bills. Today, we don’t need to remember as much because it is accessible on demand. I’ll admit, I even get a weekly text reminder from my google calendar to take out the trash.

Notice I didn’t make a stark contrast with me and you. I binge watch, text when I’m ready, and remember only what I deem necessary. We live in the same world, but the world that made me is different than the world that has made you.

What can we learn from this different world?

Early in your life, you experienced September 11,  Hurricane’s Katrina and Sandy, numerous shootings and civil unrest, even an earthquake in Central Virginia. We learned that safety, security, and stability shouldn’t be taken for granted. Policies and plans are necessary, but human wisdom, flexibility, and cooperation get us through the chaos.

Throughout your life, access to nearly everything has expanded. You can find out the GDP of New Zealand, learn about the origins of Punk Rock, or watch a monkey drink it’s own urine, with a click of your mouse. You learn from an early age that some things seen can’t be unseen. As you grow older, you will learn that just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s ok to consume.

Today, you live in a world with unprecedented recording. Whether in written word, images, or moving pictures, much of our life is documented. You’ve grown up learning how to manage a profile. But integrity is still vital for your mental health. It’s hard to manage our image, so the quicker you learn to be who you are, the better off you will be.

My hope for you as my future is this: May you enter a new world of technology and innovation with a strong sense of yourself, your world, and your part in it. May you continue to recognize the importance of civic responsibility and your greater connection to humanity. May you continue to seek out wisdom, and struggle to find a strong moral code. This will prepare you to wield the power that our world is about to place in your hands.

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