We did it!
Graduates, Families, Friends, Teachers, and School Faculty, today is a good day.
So! We’ve come a long way since Tiger King, huh? Since make-pretend calisthenic workouts, and wiping down every grocery store item with clorox wipes, until we ran out of those, and realized we ran out of toilet paper too, and there was no way of getting any more. I remember standing in the Stop and Shop line on March 13th, 2020, and the guy next to me in line said “Hey kid, you weren’t around for the blizzard of ‘78, it was way worse than this guy.” True story. Maybe he was right… I wasn’t their guy.
I could stand up here and make unfunny jokes all night, but there’s always been some sort of backdrop behind what’s been going on over the past year. By following COVID protocols, we were trying to prevent suffering in our community. We weren’t just trying to stay healthy, but preventing the anxiety that you might spread COVID, preventing the anxiety of those around us, preventing others’ serious illness, or in the worst of cases, preventing hospitalizations or even death. Sure, that is heroic and something of a wartime effort, but it’s massively depressing.
Today is June 6th, which just happens to be the 77th anniversary of D-Day. D-Day is an event written into the American journey and history. Without the brave perseverance of the people who served their community and country that day, there was no guarantee that the allied forces could continue in War. D-Day has some similarity to where we are today. Every single person in this audience has made individual sacrifices this year, every member of this class has persevered through adversity to make it here, today, about to graduate high school. And this perseverance through struggle hasn’t always been obvious or clear, a lot of this struggle has been in the back of our minds, and subconscious.
We looked around and could see and feel each other’s pain. Throughout this hardship, we asked, “Why? Why now? Why us?”
It’s natural to question this thing we call life, and I am no stranger to it. I would like to now read a poem entitled How Did You Die? By Edmund Vance Cooke, as an opportunity for everyone in the audience to reflect on these questions, and the struggle of the past year.
Did you tackle that trouble that came your way
With a resolute heart and cheerful?
Or hide your face from the light of day
With a craven soul and fearful?
Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,
Or a trouble is what you make it,
And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,
But only how did you take it?
You are beaten to earth? Well, well, what’s that?
Come up with a smiling face.
It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,
But to lie there — that’s disgrace.
The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce;
Be proud of your blackened eye!
It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts,
It’s how did you fight — and why?
And though you be done to the death, what then?
If you battled the best you could,
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why, the Critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only how did you die?
I ask myself often, how likely was it that our class was hit with a pandemic that wiped out so much of our high school experience and senior year. But reflecting on the experience, I realize that those challenges are not what matter. What matters is that we took what we were given, and said: “okay, what’s next?” We fell down flat and got up. Maybe more times than we want to admit. We will always have this experience to look back on and say, “yeah that was my class. That was me. I did it.”
So, graduates, it’s been difficult, but don’t forget this time. To forget it would be a tragedy. The harder you fall, the higher you bounce. This is an opportunity to look at your own future, and, as Edmund Vance Cooke encourages us, approach it with a pounce. All of this is not about how you will die, but rather, how you will live, and everyone in this class has shown that they are strong enough for anything to come their way.
To quote Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., “When the goin’ gets tough, the tough get going.” Class of 2021, we got going. A fighter is never ashamed of a battle scar. So graduates, be proud of your blackened eye.