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The graduation speech I never got to give

Laura Myers | Friday, May 20, 2011

I haven’t told anyone this since Frosh-O, but I was salutatorian of my high school class. There were two valedictorians and then there was me, representing all those kids smart enough to get A’s but too lazy to take honors physics.

I bring this up because the principal at my high school thought three faux-inspirational speeches written by high school students would be too much for our commencement ceremony’s audience to bear. So he told me I wouldn’t be giving a speech.

Four years later, with the wound still fresh, I have found a new platform hidden in a closet in the basement of South Dining Hall. I now present to you “The High School Graduation Speech I Never Got to Give (For Real, It’s About Mermaids).”

“There was once a young girl who came home from swim practice very sore from the team’s post-swim calisthenics. She explained to her mother that workouts in the water were easy, but out of the water they were too hard. Her mom told her, ‘I guess when you grow up you’ll have to be a mermaid.’ So the girl had a new goal.

“Okay, I’m going to admit it. That girl was me. And since last summer, I’ve come to the realization that I can’t grow up to be a mermaid.”

Pause for laughter.

My speech was going to go on to urge students to take the challenge of getting out of the water, which was easy and safe, for the difficulties of dry land. The water being a metaphor for high school and the dry land being a metaphor for … life? Who knows.

It probably would have included a wise saying from Mr. Feeney, Harry Potter or a Spill Canvas song. Of course, if I were writing it as a college senior, more intellectual and sophisticated, etc., I would definitely quote John Wooden, St. Augustine or Barney Stinson.

Clearly, this speech would have been hilarious, not to mention moving and perfect at explaining just how everyone feels at graduation. I was so certain I could do that then, but I don’t have a clue how to pull it off now.

Everything this week has been the last of something, and the conversations have ranged from the obligatory (“I can’t believe we made it”) to the depressing (“Now we’re going to get old”) to the absurd (“I’m going to miss singing along to the Spice Girls at the Backer”).

That last one was me.

As John Wooden said, on the sheet of the quote-a-day-calendar I tore off the day I wrote this, “It’s not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it.”

Not one person graduating this weekend is the same as the one who started here four years ago. When I got to Notre Dame, I’d never seen an episode of The Office. I couldn’t even pretend to know about economics. I cared that I was salutatorian of my high school class.

Now, among other things, I pretend to know about economics all the time. I baked a cake for Jim and Pam’s wedding. I don’t care about grades, but about learning.

We’ve all learned a lot in our four years here, about poetry and math and maybe the technical aspects of our future careers. About friendship and responsibility and the best way to maneuver around Corby’s when it’s packed. About losing and about winning, and about standing with your classmates in either outcome.

Now, like the girl who couldn’t stay a mermaid (I think that was it), we have to leave those conversations and those experiences for a bigger, more difficult world.

A friend pointed out to me the other day that it doesn’t matter that we’re leaving. We’ll always have our Notre Dame education and everything that comes with it, from logical thinking to alumni connections, he told me. We’ll always be the people Notre Dame made us.

Four years ago, I was most upset because I wouldn’t get to deliver the perfect sign off: “So congratulations, Wadsworth High School Class of 2007. Make a splash.” Which, of course, makes no sense considering I just told them to get out of the water. But back in 2007 I thought I was really clever.

I guess one thing hasn’t changed.

So congratulations, Notre Dame Class of 2011. Make — no, I can’t say it.

There’s no way this ending’s going to be that easy.

Coming soon to a couch near you(r living room), Laura Myers is graduating with a degree in economics and no ideas on how to improve on the $11.09 in her checking account. She made some stockings once. She wants to thank Dad for the Sports Illustrateds and Mom for teaching her how to play Scrabble way before it got cool (and both for a million other things). She would also like to thank her Downy Wrinkle Release Spray for always having her back, and Deb for being Deb. Laura can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.