peace - love - reason

Jill Of All Trades

My graduation speech

18.7.08 by literaghost

Two months ago was my graduation, which made me realize just how much it rocks to be a homeschooled atheist only-child.

Below is a transcript of my valedictorian speech ('cause, well, I was the only one in my class).

Audience: Friends, family (mostly other Kentuckians, some not well-educated and most uninformed of my beliefs), teachers, and mentors.

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Pansy symbolism reference

Graduation cake - 1Welcome, everyone! I'm so glad all of you could make it here today.

As you came in, you may have noticed our lovely cake over there. I would like to draw your attention to the flowers on that cake. As you can see, there are pansies on it. Now, some of you may have been thinking, "Hmm, that's strange, why are there pansies all over the cake?" Well, the reason we did that is because pansies hold a special symbolic meaning — they are edible, but they also hold special meaning. "Pansy" gets its name from what the French called it, the fleur de pensée, which means "flower of thought." To them, it looked like a person's face, and when the weather got hot the petals would droop forward like someone deep in thought. So in the language of the flowers, pansies symbolize a couple of things. First, they represent remembrance and memories (and later on during the slideshow we're going to have memory overload going on). Second — and this is what makes them special to me — they represent the freedom of thought, and Freethinkers, and freedom of thought is something that's been very important in my life.

I was a curious child (as I think most children are). I was the one that explored other people's closets, and asked "Why?" until you'd want to strangle me.

Now, I find that with most kids, adults will humor their curiosity for a while. But eventually, it grates on their nerves, so the children are expected to grow out of it. They'll give the kids non-answers like "because I said so," and teach them that "curiosity killed the cat." While I was eventually taught that it's impolite to open every drawer in a stranger's house and throw everything in them on the floor...I feel fortunate that those around me nurtured my natural curiosity into a love of learning, rather than suppressing it.

I truly believe that this freedom of inquiry that I was afforded — the freedom to pursue the truth, no matter where it leads — is what allowed me to become the person I am today. I know that it can be very scary letting your child explore other ideas and cultures; beliefs, lifestyles, and worldviews; the full range of choices that life has to offer — because with that comes the possibility that they will take a different path than you would have chosen for them. I know it was hard — and to those who raised me, thank you. I appreciate it. While some of you here may not agree with (or even understand) some of my beliefs, I can only hope I've become someone you can be proud of.

The truth is, the more I learned about things — and especially about other people— the more I've been able to understand other people; not only in my local community, but in my global community, as well. As I learn about their histories, experiences, and values; about who they are and where they're coming from; I find that I can identify with them, while still embracing our differences. In fact, the more I learn about the world's people and cultures, the more I value them. I begin to fully appreciate the shared humanity, and fundamental equality, of all individuals. And that moves me to defend that equality.

Of course, this doesn't mean that I'll agree with all people equally, or even get along with all people equally. But an openness to new information and ways of thinking has given me a kind of strength and flexibility. I know myself — where I come from, what I believe in, what it would take to change my mind. I know my own limitations, and realize that there are plenty of things I don't know. I also realize that there are plenty of things that I think I know, but may be wrong about. This means that when I interact with those I disagree with, I don't really fear the possibility that I may change my mind, or be "corrupted," or...get cooties. In turn, this has opened my door to opportunities and experiences — I've been able to work with many different groups of people, putting aside our disagreements in pursuit of a common goal.

And that's something that more and more of us will have to learn how to do. In case you haven't noticed, our world is getting increasingly interconnected. Here in the United States, we drive cars made in Japan, fueled by oil from Saudi Arabia, to transport our bags of groceries imported from South America and clothes made in China. Every day on the news, we see and hear the consequences of culture clash — and often, the culture rattling the hornets' nest is our own. Today, the people of our country need to learn to understand other cultures in order to survive. If we can do it well, we can thrive. Our country's historical reputation for accepting the oppressed and persecuted — "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" — has been what drew many of our greatest citizens to this country in the first place. After all, it was the Third Reich's persecution of minorities which allowed us to gain the likes of Albert Einstein. Let us not make their mistake. Instead, let us try to live up to the hopes of those who once looked up to us. I hope that one day I can live in a country that once again is the product of Enlightenment.