Once upon a time, back before any of my students were born (before they were even gleams in their parents eyes), I was also a student.
I was a pretty good student if I do say so myself, and came out #2 in both my Junior High (9th grade) and High School .graduating classes.
As a result I gave the Salutatory address at the graduations. I thought these speeches were lost to history (not necessarily a bad fate), when I decided to take advantage of the break Hurricane Wilma gave school teachers to go through some old boxes of files. There among spiders and mildew I found copies of both speeches. I have scanned them in to the computer, complete with grammatical and spelling errors and am posting them here.
This is not an exercise in vanity. It has a point. Historically, looking back 30+ years the problems in the Sudan have barely changed. It may be of some interest to my students to see what was on the mind of one of their teachers "back in the day." It also illustrates what was expected of a speech "back in the day." As I read papers by my current 9th graders I see very few that are as well written (forget for a moment content) as the speech from 1971, and regardless of grade level few as well constructed as the one from 1974. I also find that the main point in the 1974 speech is still valid, perhaps even more so in light of the Patriot Act and the imposition of "family values" by the religious right.
Mr. Rosovsky, honored guests, parents, faculty and fellow graduates.
On behalf of the graduating class I would like to welcome all of you to the commencement exercises of the 1971 class of Daniel Carter Beard Junior High School.
We can compare our world to a piece of marble waiting to be shaped by the sculptor. Soon, we will take from our parents the most powerful hammer and chisel the world has ever known and shape our marble, the world. If we are callous with life and death, the world will shatter. We must care for all people, not just our friends, but all people, all over the world. We must not be selective in our brotherhood. The world is callous. For example, in the Sudan a civil race war rages that few have even heard of. The Moslem north against the Black animist and Christian south. In the Sudan approximately one million have already dies in the South. Where is the outcry? The relief? The Aid?
In the past there were rallies, protest and rebellion, for people and against war and fear. Now, this year, people are relaxing their vigil against injustice and evil. We must not give up our rebellion against war, fear, prejudice and hate. For we are the vanguard of a new era. It is for us to decide whether man will live in “Soulless Cities” or “Living Communities.”
All this depends on our actions today and tomorrow. Already we the youth of America are taking part in the complexities of the world.
If a man should ask for your help, “Which way to the post office?” you would tell him, you would help him. Today the world is reaching out asking for help. We must answer its call. We must involve ourselves. Apathy must become a thing of the past. We are, because of circumstance and chance, the generation that gives the world hope. For we come at a time when conventions are relaxing and society is changing.
We must supply new conventions and a new society to replace the dispassionate, callous and collapsing standards of many. The foundation is all that is left of their brilliant sand castle. On this foundation we must build a society based not on greed and might, whether financial or physical, but on trust, peace and practical, not preached, brotherhood.
The future we will live in is one of immense possibilities. Imagine, if you will, a world of few if any muggings or murders, where all three year olds know the alphabet, and start school on an equal footing, of zero unemployment, zero poverty, zero inflation and no traffic jams. All this is possible through technology.
Poverty, hunger could be things of the past in a world of advanced machines. The oceans will be harvested, the sun’s radiation may even be directly used.
The technology to achieve these modern miracles is already here. In Germany a train able to go 350 miles per hour is planned for 1980. In Japan processed seaweed is already sold as a food supplement, like rice or wheat. The microwave oven can cook a hambuger in seconds, not minutes. The four day work week already exists in some of this countrys’ businesses.
The future which technology promises us is a rich one, but it is laden with riddles and problems. Can society, as it is now, adapt to technology. We already have a gap, between what man can do and what man must do. Society must change and adapt as technology advances.
Our morals must change or man will die out as a species. For example, man has used war to settle conflict for 2000 years. This is not practical in today’s world of overkill and second strike capabilities. Racial discrimination was practical, though evil, in yesterday’s world of competition for jobs and food. This too, will be impractical and un-necessary in tomorrow’s world. We must change society to a more humane level, for otherwise the total culture of life, as we know it, is doomed.
The new society we build, the new structure of life must be based on truth and life, not lies and death. Man is given this one last chance, we must not waste it.
Every generation, till now, has repaired and patched the leaking boat of civilization. Shouldn’t our generation with American power and wealth in our hands build a new Noah’s Ark for all mankind.
Salutatorian Speech-January 1974
On behalf of my friends and fellow graduates, I would like to welcome Mr. Serisky, Mr. Mudd, our honored guests, the faculty and our parents to these commencement exercises of the Francis Lewis High School class of January 1974.
I had just finished a rather complicated speech on individuality when I saw the movie of Orwell’s classic, 1984. On that screen I saw the things my speech for this morning was warning against, coming true. The characters were giving up their right to think for themselves. It scared me, because in 1984 I’ll be 27 and a world where people believe what they’re told, is my private image of hell.
Today we already find people surrendering their right to think, for the right to belong. We already seem to follow along with the crowd. We give up our own goals for those of a group that does our thinking and hoping for us. We cease to be individuals, but act and react as groups.
As High School graduates we will hear time and time again that as a group we are the world’s future and hope. Yet most of us see the world as something we can not individually affect. Our vision is of a society we must conform to, rather than change.
The horror of 1984 could be the final result not of nuclear catastrophe as in Orwell’s novel, but of our personal neglect of our individuality.
Our neglect for our own thoughts is ironically a result of our search for our own identities. In seeking our identities we tend to abandon our minds to those who will do our thinking for us. We join groups to hide from the inner conflict that begins when we try to find a road to self determination. It is much easier to follow trends than to follow oneself. Many of my friends are going through what we now label as identity crisis. I am also a victim of this terribly contagious disease. However, I find the result of all of our soul searching to be not a personal conviction, but the selection of a new style to follow. Even the searching for an identity has become a fashion of its own. Who are the leaders of the fashions we follow? I suspect that those whose ideals we claim as our own are as lacking in individual thought as we are. Together we search for a group identity. We are afraid of personal value judgments, of affirming a conviction different from that of our chosen peers. As individuals we lose in this abdication of personal conviction. The question becomes, not Who are you?; and what do you believe in?; but, who do you agree with? And whose ideas do you accept?
Only a few years ago when my sister graduated from Francis Lewis the idealism of her class committed them to movements and marches in every possible cause. Today, having seen the imperfect world change only superficially in response to their long decades of demonstration, we have turned to the more practical philosophy of changing our own lives and influencing the world around us.
The society we will create will be the sum of our personal worlds. If we each become the guardian of our own freedom of thought, and guard our judgment from those who would mold public opinion and from our own laxness. If each time a new idea is proposed we think out our own opinion without wondering about what others will think, then the world of 1984 will not be one of fear.
We are the generation of 1984. We will be the generation that decides the use of technology and media either as the controls of our minds or merely as tools to enhance our personal freedom of choice. This personal dignity and independence of thought is the hope that our tomorrows will not be lived in Orwell’s 1984, but in a world of individual liberties.
Perhaps in 1984 we will return to Francis Lewis having each maintained an individuality that a Big Brother can not destroy.