Friday, May 14, 2010

Colin O'Brien's Graduation Speech

I gave the commencement address at Washington High School in 1978, and my theme was "resist conformity". My son Colin, who apparently thinks exactly the way I do, offered to give the commencement address at Lindbergh High School in 2010, but alas! it was not to be.

But that doesn't mean I can't publish it, does it? And so I present below ... Colin's speech.

Colin O’Brien
Graduation Speech

Good Evening Lindbergh High School class of 2010, I am Colin O’Brien, here at your graduation, and this is your graduation speech…

I’ve had the opportunity to give a similar introduction on many Fridays on J.E.T. 98 news just before reading the daily announcements. And I figure that those daily announcements are really quite representative of high school as a whole. They occur every day at the same time, they hold some significance but few people listen, they’re boring, typically uninteresting, and monotonous.

High school is similarly monotonous. Seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, for four years, day in and day out, we all wake up and repeat the process of classes and schedules perpetuated by alarms, clocks, and bells. This repetition is the struggle of high school.

The monotony, however, was not always dominant, and it is the moments that broke the monotony that were the good ones. It might have been a particularly interesting class. It might have been cutting through the rhetoric with Mr. Meyer, learning how to make the legendary foods one mac’ ‘n cheese with Mrs. Kimker, juggling a bunch of seemingly useless papers given to you by Mr. Donnelly, or just having a chat with the one, the only, Sherp-Attack. The breaks in the monotony might have been with friends. It have been falling in love for the first time, it might have been getting down at Incrediball (or Snowball, if that’s your kind of thing), or it might have just been hanging at Jack in the Box with some friends on a Friday night. These moments that broke the monotony of high school are the important ones.

Now, from here, I could go on to discuss the future. I could deliver the cliché ideas which have been delivered a thousand times before. “You are the future and the future is now, go out and change the world.” But giving that speech would just add to these four years of monotony. I will take a different path.

Tonight you leave here as high school graduates. Do what you want. Be different. You don’t have to go to college, you don’t have to get a four year degree, you don’t have to get a job in a cubicle, you don’t have to have 2.1 kids, you don’t have to have a picket fence and a golden retriever, you don’t have to stay in St. Louis, you don’t have to vote, you don’t have to take standardized tests, you don’t have to do anything. Leave here tonight and start to live the rest of your life the way you want to. Do what makes you happy and dare to be different. Go out into the world tonight and for the rest of your life break the monotony of society.


Lauren said...

"Do what makes you happy"

Frankly, this is terrible advice. Eating five bowls of ice cream can make me happy, but it doesn't make me wise...not to mention healthy.

"Do what makes you happy" is the mantra of the 70s and I'm surprised you would be repeating it here.

Otherwise, the speech had potential. :)

The Unknown Poet said...


You're right. There's also nothing in it about serving God or serving others, and "do what makes you happy" short-term is a recipe for disaster.

But at least the speech breaks the mold. It's not quite Chestertonian, but moving in that direction.

What strikes me is how much this is like the speech I wrote 32 years ago, a speech Colin never read. I was an atheist at the time, and Colin is devout, but the similarities are striking.