Thursday, May 17, 2007

Fifty Years of Goodbyes

Yesterday, my daughter’s headmaster called her into his office and handed her a bulging packet of yellowing note cards and tattered, type-written pages. “Here,” he said. “This is every valedictorian speech given at Ecole Classique for the last fifty years. They might give you some ideas.” You see, my daughter is Ecole Classique’s valedictorian this year.

At first she looked at all those speeches and went, Oh my god. But in the end they provided us with an afternoon of sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious reading. There’s the late sixties graduate who foamed at the mouth about longhaired antiwar hippies (We Googled him; he’s now a banker and a deacon at a local church. I was hoping he’d joined a Hari Krishna group or something.) One obviously depressed—and depressing—valedictorian delivered dire warnings about all the disappointments his classmates would face in life. Some girls sound so peppy and gushy you just know they were also cheerleaders. Others sound wise beyond their years. Yet all taken together they provide a fascinating look at how much life has changed—and how much it has stayed the same—with the passing of the years.

Dani spent part of last night and part of this morning working on her own speech. At one point she looked up and said, “It’s kinda weird to think that next year my speech will be in that packet and future valedictorians will be reading it.” It was a thought that gave me pause, as well.

Thirty-odd years ago, I was valedictorian of my high-school class. I was so disliked by the administration that they refused to allow me to give the traditional speech at graduation. I was a bit miffed at the time, but that was all—I mean, what seventeen-year-old wants to write a speech? But now, looking back, I realize how wrong what they did was. Not to me, but to what should have been a long, unbroken, ever changing and wildly varying progression of goodbyes.

7 comments:

Steve Malley said...

Were you in the Bright Young Hooligans club too?

Excellent...

cs harris said...

Yeah, I blew their theory that all kids like me ended up in jail or dead.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like an interesting time capsule. All those valedictorian speeches. You should make copies for research purposes.

congrats on avoiding jail and death.

Emily said...

I wasn't valedictorian, and we had four senior speakers (elected by students, popularity contest) at our graduation.

My best friend and I wrote a song lampooning the senior speakers, and when we get together we still sing it: "Cheers for the senior speakers/ They'll do a terrible job./ Cheers for the senior speakers/ Rah rah, corn on the cob."

That could be why I turned to prose writing. But hurrah for Danielle! I'm sure she'll do a marvelous job, and I love the idea that she's joining a great procession.

Emily Toth

Lana said...

I'm sorry (but not surprised, unfortunately,) to hear that "the man" ripped off your opportunity. Let's hear it for the "Land of the Free." *snort*

Lana said...

Congrats to your daughter, btw! :)

Sphinx Ink said...

Congrats to Dani on her achievement! I wish I could hear her speech.... My academic career never reached such heights--I graduated high school on the upper edge of the Great Middle. Had I been asked to give a speech of any kind, I would have been terrified and stood before the audience in tremulous silence. (That, of course, is the only reason I didn't make valedictorian or salutatorian: I deliberately chose mediocrity in order to avoid having to face my greatest fear--public speaking.)