Thursday, May 31, 2007

I guess Googling "high school commencement speeches" right before bedtime wasn't such a great idea.

Growing up I was sure that I was adopted. I didn’t feel that I resembled anyone in my family nor was my personality similar. As I entered my thirties, and large amounts of fat left my face, more and more people commented that I looked just like my father. Confirmation, finally.

Over the years, I have come to realize that I have a few other things in common with my dad. Our sense of humor is similar (we both have a quick, dry wit), we both tell elaborate stories, full of minutia and detail, that usually last longer than the listener prefers, and we both enjoy flirting. My parents were a part of a dinner club that met monthly rotating locations among the members. My brother and I would be “sent” to our rooms when it was my parents turn to host, but I would sneak out occasionally to watch. I have vivid memories of my dad laughing, sipping a cocktail and holding a cigarette. He rarely smoked, nor smiled, so these were easy things to remember. Surrounding him were women who seemed very engaged by his storytelling. If family friends came over, my dad would often be chatting with the woman rather than the man. He’s really not a guy’s guy, so this never shocked my mother or me. Even though my parent’s marriage was less than perfect, my father never strayed. I have no doubt it ever even crossed his mind. He was content to take in the occasional adulation and then move on with his very orderly and comfortable routine of a life.

When visiting my father in Florida a few months ago, he started telling me about recurring dreams that he has. The dreams are very similar but fortunately pretty rare. They are unsettling enough, however, to cause him to remember them the next day. Each dream has the same theme. He is in a situation that he can’t get out of. There is a lot of stress with no reconciliation or positive ending. He usually just awakes in the morning upset and tired. Last night I had one of those dreams.

Next week I am giving a high school commencement speech. The seniors, from the high school I worked at through last October, have asked me to speak. I accepted this honor gleefully about six weeks ago, but have now sunk into a cavernous pit of fear, apprehension, panic and downright terror. I haven’t been discussing these emotions, and actually didn’t even realize that I had them this strongly, until this morning.

My dream was pretty predictable. On the day of commencement, I am in a strange setting with lots of people that I do not know. I have procrastinated to the point of no return and do not have a prepared speech. I begin asking aforementioned “people” for commencement speech ideas. The most common response I receive is “Just wing it!” I quickly realize that I am not dressed properly. This is when the deck of cards really begins to crumble. I do not know where the commencement is being held. Is it at the same location as last year, which in my dream I think has awful parking, or is it at the high school, with good parking? However, the parking doesn’t matter because I can’t find my car. The strange setting I’m in, with all the people, has millions of cars parked in the street. My car, I believe, is blocks away. I try to call my former co-worker so that he can tell me which location to go to, but he won’t answer his phone because the ceremony has already started. OF COURSE I’M LATE – THIS IS AN AWFUL, AWFUL DREAM. Somehow I beam myself to the graduation and am only a half hour late. I traipse up to the podium, in my unsightly outfit, and proceed to “wing it.” In my dream I went through about 15 different things that I might be able to discuss. The stress was so real that I can still feel now. I start to ramble and manage to get a few laughs (see above: “dry sense of humor”, ability to tell “elaborate stories, full of minutia and details“), but quickly realize that I don’t know where the hell any of it is going, nor what my time limit is. At that point, THANKFULLY, I woke up.

I have about four and a half days to write a speech. I have a couple ideas for a theme, but I can’t seem to get anything down on paper. I think the thing I’m most worried about is that I won’t make an impact. That my words will sound just like anyone else’s that will not know them the way that I do. I am so honored that they had to opportunity to ask two faculty members to speak at their graduation, and they picked me as one of the two. Me – the one who left them mid-year. Me – the one who they don’t see daily. Me – the one who often wondered if anything I was saying or doing was getting through to them.

Working in education can be so grueling and thankless. There are few concrete rewards to keep a person going. Especially, as a counselor, I rarely get to see the end results of any of my work. It’s less tangible than teaching kids to read, for example. I don’t know if my “inspirational” lectures are going in one ear and out the other, or if they are settling into their hearts to be pulled out later when they need them.

Next Tuesday, as I stand properly attired with a written speech in front of me in the correct room at the correct time, I know I will feel incredibly satisfied with the profession I have chosen.


Rachel said...

What an honor! And I'm sure you'll do a great job--the thinking about it part is the hardest. I just spoke at a memorial service--completely freaked out, but it was okay.

Good luck! And if you need a little inspiration, look for Matthew Fox's Class Day speech at Columbia this spring. I think it's on You Tube.

Gretchen said...

I was just at a Sports Banquet for Seniors tonight. The speaker gave students three tips!

1. set your clock 30 minutes earlier than when you have to get up. You can hit the snooze button three times and still make your class on time.

2. Be a leader! Set an example

3. Take a Monday night class. Most of the school holidays fall on a Monday. You have a week to do your homework and if your instructor is into Monday Night Football- he hurry through class so he can dismiss everyone by halftime.

The kids and parents loved it!

Good luck and you will do great!

blackbird said...

I'm always very bossy with friends in these situations -
quit worrying about making an impact.
You obviously have.
I think it's a great testament that you've been asked.
Speak from your heart, tell a good story, and charm them.
You'll do your dad proud - I know it.

Anonymous said...

You are already wonderful with words. Have fun sharing that gift with everyone there!

mamalife said...

Good luck, I'm certain you'll do great. As for wondering if you make a difference, I am certain that you do. Little things you say and do get stored away in hearts and minds and remembered for years to come. Unfortunate that you rarely know about it, but it does happen, each and every day.

Meg said...

I have no doubt you will amaze them with your fabulous way with words. I think the best thing to remind them of is that they learned everything they need to know about citizenship in kindergarten.

P.S. I am going back to my former students' graduation this Sunday. I am glad that they just requested that I award them with their diplomas! No speaking!

Jennie said...

I hope you'll post your speech so we can see what you came up with!

You've obviously already made your impact or they wouldn't have asked you to speak - What an honor! I know you'll do great.