Good evening to my fellow graduates, and to our families, friends, and the Kittatinny community.
Tonight, I am one of 163 students celebrating a transition. The British poet William Blake once said "To generalize is to be an idiot", and I largely agree. It would be unfair and unwise of me to stand here and speak of "the Kittatinny experience", because "the Kittatinny experience" does not exist. Each of us is a unique individual, who leaves KRHS with something different. We have all grown while in high school, but in our own ways.
It would be even sillier to generalize about our future. For while we've experienced different things in our time in high school, we have at least learned within the same halls and lived in the same area. But from this common ground, we will disperse into vastly differing futures, to colleges across the country, full-time jobs, or perhaps lives very similar to current ones. How can I hope to speak for all of us?
So if I've eliminated the "What wonderful high school times we've had" speech and the "We're taking our first steps into a larger world" speech, what is left? I'm not particularly qualified to give advice; the fact that I speak here tonight does not necessarily indicate that I am the best student or most intelligent graduate of this class, let alone qualify me to advise my fellow students on life. Yet although I feel uncomfortable lecturing my classmates, there is one simple but crucial thing that seems perfectly obvious, yet is often neglected, and it is this I choose to address:
Everybody we deal with in life is a human being.
All too often, we view other people based on how they personally impact us. Yet each of us is a complex person, unable to be characterized simply by our job, our culture, our age, or even our own isolated actions. These are simply surface qualities, which cannot possibly reflect the depth of a person. "You can't understand a man until you walk a mile in his shoes" is a well-worn cliche, yet we, as a society, tend to ignore its implications. We cannot truly walk that mile; we don't know who any person really is, but only their general humanity.
This recognition of all people's intrinsic humanness is extremely crucial because it engenders what may be the most important concept in life: empathy. If everyone on Earth acknowledged and valued the feelings of others, our world would be a vastly happier place. So much of the violence and hurt we cause is enabled by robbing those involved of their humanity.
Whether it's treating the enemy in a war as faceless "bad guys", abusing a spouse or child to feed a need for control, deeming that any given person is in poverty because he doesn't try hard enough, denying the validity of someone's sexual orientation because it couldn't possibly be as real to them as ours is to us, judging people by their race, their sex, the way they dress, their religion, or the views they hold, or seeing in a person only one of his actions, these dehumanizing behaviors can be traced to not valuing others as complete people like ourselves.
I've been told that this speech should not be a negative one. I think I've stuck to that, despite what I just said. Because if we just focus on this one simple concept-- that all other people are people, too-- so much of the negative in our world can be made positive. As human beings, we have the potential for hate and cruelty, but also for tremendous depths of love, compassion, kindness, and joy. If we choose to embrace the best in ourselves, and to acknowledge it in each and every one of our fellow human beings, the future holds incredible promise. I challenge my classmates, and all those assembled here tonight, to take hold of this basic idea and apply it in our lives. In my opinion, nothing could be more important.
With that in mind, enjoy your futures, my fellow human beings!
5 September, 2002
Intellectual Property Rights denounced by Britt Gordon-McKeon, 2002