This is the compelling commencement speech given by teacher, Patrick Griffin, to the graduates of Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon 6/10/18.
Most Beloved Class of 2018!
The world is a rather interesting place right now, isn’t it? From Syria to Korea; from racism to sexism; from pollution of the earth to pollution of the mind; from refugees to xenophobia; throw in fake news and politicians today and, well, welcome to the real world.
You all are so not ready. What you are going to have to fight has plagued humanity for so long that it is all but impossible to not see it as part of human nature. Even if you could, somehow, in a fit of enlightenment, make yourself ready to challenge those established orders, you are just one person; what could you even do?
At least, that is what you will all hear, from yourself and others, in those moments when you look at the lake’s surface and see both your reflection and the depths beyond; when you question your own response to the grief and think that, perhaps, you should just focus on your own short and rare gift of life.
So, you are not ready.
Now, many of you might say, if you haven’t already, that we didn’t prepare you. Forgetting for a moment how many times most of you had your phone out while we were trying to do literally anything, you should know that we would have failed anyway. The past is too formidable, perspectives on the present too varied, and the future too unknowable for us to have managed things otherwise. No, instead, our job was to offer you a foundation from which you could continue on as creators of knowledge for that is how you shall find your own answers - your own future.
So, you are facing problems many appear content with shrugging off as established orders to the universe. “Might has always made right! History and evolution show nothing else!” Yes, the world is and has been a terrible place for far too many. However, it is, by blood and sweat and tears not your own, a better world for a greater percentage of people than ever before and none of us should really take a one-way ticket back to any point in history. Find and nurture hope, then, in the fights that came before you. Established orders of old were challenged and now we don’t have to wonder if five day work weeks are possible; if slavery is just part of the human experience; if authoritarianism and oppression can be vanquished.
So, you are just one person; just one drop amidst a limitless ocean. Were you sick the day we taught about parts of a whole in math or about how mitochondria, the powerhouse that it is, is but one part of the symbiotic relationship that makes up a cell? Was the allure of your phone greater than the notion that sentences are incomplete without a subject, verb, and punctuation or that it is the repetition of simple skills that make for both beautiful works of art and athletic prowess? Were you so cynical that you chose to ignore the ‘many’ that is required for a healthy psyche or a revolution or a civil rights movement? Your life may amount to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean, yet what is any life-giving and sustaining ocean but a multitude of drops? (1).
I am frequently asked if there is hope for the future. It is not because I have any particular wisdom or prescience. Rather, it is because I work with you; because youth represents a flame of hope where, perhaps, other fires have gone out. While such a hope might represent a selfish passing of the proverbial buck, my time with you these past four years has proven such hope justified. You left Southridge a better place than you found it and thus I have hope that we can continue to address issues that matter.
The burden of history is upon you. We all wish we could be born during times of joy and peace, a time where any adventures we might have are imaginary or of our own choosing. But ours is not to choose when and where we are born. Ours is to choose what we do with the time given us (2).
Today we celebrate the putting aside of childish ways. Stand on the shoulders of giants and see hope in an uncertain sunrise. Yours is the coming of a tide. Most in this room are asking, will yours be a flood of destruction or of renewal and rebirth? Having worked so long with so many of you, well, you can see where so much of my joy, my optimism, and my hope come from.
We love you, class of 2018. Thank you and congratulations.
Patrick Griffin is a well-respected educator in the Beaverton School District. You can watch the speech at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmTMK4X7Crc&feature=youtu.be, staring at 45:30.
1 Credit to Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas. London: Sceptre, 2004. Print