how to address 5000 of your closest friends

Hello! Since last we met and talked about talking in front of people, I’ve had a bit of a stage upgrade.

Yes, I spoke on a stage so large and far away from everyone that they threw me up on a JUMBOTRON. Life goal: achieved.

But in all seriousness: I was selected as one of three student speakers to give a brief Convocation address to the University of Chicago College Class of 2012 (also known as my friends). It was a huge, huge honor and not nearly as terrifying as it sounds.

I wanted to make a list here of all the people I have to thank for getting me here, starting with Cecilia who threw my name into the hat and winding all the way back to my first-grade teacher who said I was the best writer she’d ever had, but there are so many of you that I’d inevitably leave someone out. But please know that each and every bit of time with you, my teachers and family and friends, are the cornerstones of my own wonky mosaic.

I’m also not going to talk about the other events of the weekend, the packing and saying goodbyes and feeling so many feelings, because the emotional gears are still turning. Processing is in progress. Hell, I haven’t even unpacked my car yet.

Here’s what I learned, however, about standing up and talking to lots of people. Maybe this is so stupidly obvious as to be unremarkable, but that’s just how the truth works sometimes: you gotta believe in yourself. In writing this speech, in revising and smoothing its manifold metaphors, in practicing its slow-calm-breathe-pause delivery, the advice I got was always the same: be confident. They picked you because you have something to say, so say it.

For someone who once bunched the covers over her head the morning of her turn to deliver the Old Testament reading on Youth Sunday, I felt preternaturally calm clutching my printed-out speech and lining up in my assigned spot for the bagpipes procession. I believed my own hype. I had emerged from the shadows of always wear sunscreen and this is water to craft 3 minutes, one-and-a-half 14-point pages of something I really meant. I looked around at the sweaty faces of all these people around me, all these kids in their cheapo robes and variously-angled mortarboards and knew that I wanted to tell them what I was going to tell them. I had a message and by God I was going to sell it.

At my school, we call our graduation exercises Convocation instead of Commencement because we as an institution believe not in firm beginnings and endings of learning experience, but of a constant ebb and flow, gatherings and dispersals, continuity. I hadn’t even considered this beforehand, but that was all I wanted to say in my speech. You tell people that you love your friends and you remind them that theirs are great, too; that there’s really nothing else to life. You get on a stage, you speak slowly, you don’t throw up on your shoes. And voilà. Three minutes fly by.

Also, in terms of Good Graduation Advice: the sunscreen guy was definitely on it. Especially when your ceremony involves sitting without shade for three-plus hours.

You can listen to my speech, recorded by my loyal father on his Zoom H2, right here. I hope you like it.

Posted in Writing

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