Graduation Speech

This is the speech I gave as valedictorian at my high school graduation:

Writing speeches is always hard, you can never fully know what your audience values or their average attention span. As I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, I knew I wanted my speech to be emotional and inspirational. Yet, I do not have too many amazing experiences that you can learn from, unless you count the sheer number of times I have lost my wallet. So I thought, maybe I should make it funny, but I have been told my jokes are horrible. I started to write about something unique to myself, but that also didn’t work out, because the only thing special I could think of is my remarkable ability to forget important events and social expectations. I finally decided on the one thing that got me to where I am today: learning.

 

I can see a lot of you getting scared. Please do not panic, I am not giving a shiur. If you feel the need to doze off, be my guest, all you need to do is catch the end.

 

We go through our lives pretty quickly. Rarely do we step back and simply look at how beautiful the world is. I don’t mean it’s physical beauty, smelling the roses is great, but that appreciation only lasts so long. I mean the beauty that comes from appreciating the vastness of the world and our place in it. Often times, our traits such as pride and ignorance get in the way of this appreciation. And we are too scared to push away our faults and overcome our problems. But these traits do not have to be a dead-end; This is why I will tell you of the seven ways that I believe helped me push away, at least somewhat, my pride, ignorance, stubbornness, and immaturity in hopes of becoming a better and more learned person.

 

One:

אֵינוֹ מְדַבֵּר בִּפְנֵי מִי שֶׁהוּא גָדוֹל מִמֶּנּוּ

Never talk before someone greater than yourself.

When I started at good, old Yeshiva Atlanta, I met a man named Rabbi Estreicher. He looked at everyone of his students, including me, and saw something greater than himself. Rabbi E showed me that you must look at everyone as if they were greater than yourself, as the more you believe that are you are better, the less you will learn throughout your life. Sit back and start listening, not just to those you think you have something to learn from, but to everyone.

 

Two:

אֵינוֹ נִכְנָס לְתוֹךְ דִּבְרֵי חֲבֵר

Never Interrupt

When I traveled as a kid with my parents, they used to take away my game-boy and tell me to look out the window. I hated them with all my heart for making me lose those Pokemon battles, but eventually I looked out the window and was amazed by what I saw. There was a whole world that I missed by looking down at some little screen. Never forget about the world, the more you interrupt it with meaningless stuff, the less you will learn. To be the one who never interrupts means you are the one who has learnt the most.

 

Three:

אֵינוֹ נִבְהָל לְהָשִׁיב

Never be quick to reply.

My dad always told me that when he goes to a business meeting, he can tell who is the most successful in the room. It’s the person who who waits until the end of the meeting to ask a single question that knocks everyone out of their chairs. A single statement can overpower an entire conversation, all you need to do is think before you speak. With calculated and purposeful words you can change someone’s mind, you can turn around their day, you can even influence the world, all it requires is some thought before you talk. With the tremendous potential that speech has, why would you waste it on a mindless response.

 

Four:

שׁוֹאֵל כָּעִנְיָן וּמֵשִׁיב כַּהֲלָכָה

Ask relevant questions and give appropriate answers

I have had a wide range of teachers and classes throughout my life. I have seen dates, formulas, concepts, and equations, but those are not the lessons I have received from my teachers. While they may despise the amount of questions I ask, they were the ones that taught me to ask them. Mr. Shillito in Math, Dr. Jeffery and Mrs. Brand in Science, the list goes on and on. Grades and GPA are not the goals of our education. The question we ask, and the answers we think about will always teach us more. Questions allow you to see the world and answers give you the tools to understand it.

 

Five:

אוֹמֵר עַל רִאשׁוֹן רִאשׁוֹן וְעַל אַחֲרוֹן אַחֲרוֹן

Put first things first and last things last

My mom has always shown me the value of prioritization. Life is a game of optimization. To get the most out of it, you need to figure out what is important. For me, family and religion are up top, and remembering where I put my keys and phone are at the bottom, but that may be different for everybody. Regardless, life without order is a chaotic forest, while a life of priorities is a beautiful garden. Figure out what comes first and what comes last, and every decision will be easy.

 

Six:

עַל מַה שֶּׁלֹּא ידע, אוֹמֵר לֹא ידעתי

Be willing to say “I don’t know”

I used to think that I knew a lot. I could rattle off complicated physics formulas and most of the elementary particles. I once even asked this question to a physicist I met “Could gravitons exist as a wave supporting quantum field theory and not defying Einstein’s theory of gravity?”. He understood it just as much you do now, because it makes no sense. As I have grown, I have realized how ignorant I am, how much more I have to learn. The world is a massive place, its secrets uncountable. The beauty of mystery and that which we do not know is more fantastic than any sight you will see. Do not be embarrassed to say “I do not know,” as the more you say it the more you will come to learn and appreciate all that is in this world.

 

Seven:

מוֹדֶה עַל הָאֱמֶת

Put the truth before everything.

This one I learnt pretty recently, and I have my friend Dan to thank. You see, I thought that I had my personal philosophy figured out. Then, Dan started talking about ancient philosophers and biblical criticism. At first, I was like “Dan are you crazy?” But, then he showed me how incomplete my beliefs were. I was forced to rethink everything I knew and see every perspective in the pursuit of truth. He is still crazy, don’t get me wrong, but that has craziness taught me so much. You see, every important invention, great civilization, drastic improvement, and sweeping enlightenment has come from a changing perspective. You must always pursue truth as the solidification of our belief come from the seed of our doubts.  

 

These are not seven things I have mastered, but rather my sevens goals to growing. Seven ways to better yourself and live a more purposeful, truthful, and happy life. Life is a long journey, but it can be so much more enjoyable if we are willing to accept that we are not perfect.

 

If you come away with anything tonight let it be this: Be bold enough to grow and fix your faults.

Be brave enough to put others before yourself. Be confident enough to say “ I do not know.”  Be careful enough to not waste your breath. Be curious enough to ask a question.

And lastly, be open enough to pursue a life of learning so that at the end our days, we may say “I lived my life well”.

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