Graduation Wisdom

Two talks urge curiosity, kindness, and understanding

Graduation season can be contagious: The kickoff to summer break! Schedules loosen, days lengthen, spontaneity rules. Even the workaday grind is brightened by early dawns, late dusks, sunlight galore.

Graduation can also be an emotional time full of change. “This mean old world is a tough place,” says Rev. Gregory Jones, rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh. Jones spoke to Ravenscroft students at their baccalaureate June 2, encouraging them to stay ever-curious and always kind. “The world needs for you to be curious: to be intellectually, emotionally, philosophically, and spiritually curious people.”

Jones’ advice rings true beyond graduates. Similarly, Enloe High School’s Class of 2017 salutatorian Katherine Gan addressed her peers June 14 with a message of unity applicable to every age. “It is easy to give into fear and cynicism,” she says, urging her peers to instead be appreciative and understanding, always in search of “compassion and genuine human interaction.”

Here are both speeches in their entirety, offering insight and encouragement for all of us this season.

Rev. Greg Jones
“I’ve been thinking about what to say to you all for a while. And until a few days ago, I had narrowed it down to a single word. I had decided I wanted to talk to you all about one thing and I was pretty sure of myself.

I thought, ‘This is it. Gonna be great.’

So I told a friend about it, and she said I should talk to you about something else.

I was annoyed. I was annoyed at what she said I should say because I already knew what I wanted to say. I already knew what I thought, and what I wanted to say, and when she said I should say something else – I dismissed what she said I should say.

Because that’s how people do it now right? People already know what they think. They already have their opinion. They already know what they are going to say, and they don’t listen to others, especially when they don’t agree.

Right? Wrong.

I thought about what my friend had said, and the next day I realized that what she said I should say added so much to what I wanted to say, that the two things together formed a much bigger truth than I had come up with alone.

And then I knew that I have to say to you two things. So, I hope you are curious.

I hope you are curious to hear what it is I have to say. I hope you are curious to inwardly digest what I have to say. And I hope you are curious to let what I have to say change what you may already think.

So what’s the first thing I have to say? I already said it: I hope you are curious.

The world needs for you to be curious: to be intellectually, emotionally, philosophically, and spiritually curious people. To be people who want to learn more about everything. The world needs people to be curious about the world. How does it really work? What is really happening? What is the truth … about everything? A hunger to learn should be part of who you are – now when you are young and then when you are old.

Curiosity of the mind will lead you to read. And to study. And to ask questions. To think. To wonder about things you don’t already know about. To look again at what you do already know and ask yourself – is this really true? Am I thinking the truth?

I believe the human being was designed by God to want to know the truth of things. So for this reason, to be curious about the wonders of the world around you, and the people you meet, is to fulfill your very design. You have a brain. Use it. God put it there for that.

So I hope you are curious. But as my friend said, there is another thing, something even more important.

Now, you don’t have to be that curious to have noticed by now that this mean old world is a tough place. It’s a tough place, and sometimes it seems like it is getting worse. The more you allow curiosity to open your mind to the reality of the whole world – and not just your little world – the more you will see the heights and depths and riches and poverties of what’s good and what’s bad about it. You will see in particular that the bad things that are happening in this world are not caused by natural randomness or by a puppet-master God who makes everything happen that happens.

No, you will see when you have allowed your mind to function that the injustice, war, suffering, and violence of this world do not happen because God is crazy or cruel: But because human beings are.

People cause, or permit, nearly all that’s wrong to be what’s wrong.

So this is the most important thing I can tell you. I believe God is real and true, and I believe what God wants is for human beings to be kind. God wants us to pursue kindness. God wants us to love kindness. God wants us to show kindness. God wants us to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. For kindness is like a garden of blessings.

And from that garden grow justice, peace, and plenty.

When left to its own desires, the world will always get worse. But I believe that we were designed to be better than that. And the only way anything will ever get better, is by our acts of kindness. Everyday. All day. For kindness is God working through us.

So, curiosity and kindness, those are my two words for you. I could go on forever. But what more can I say? You will help other people become better people, and you will become compassionate and wise. Peace be with you.”

Katherine Gan

“Before I begin my speech tonight, I want to encourage every person in this room to think about how our graduation is even possible. We certainly did not achieve this feat all on our own.

Whether it was the financial support of a parent, the advice and assistance of a caring counselor, or the encouraging words of a teacher, we have all been shaped by the people who laid down the bricks for us to walk on. So, I want to take time tonight to applaud those who have shared in our victories, sympathized with our struggles, and encouraged us to be the best version of ourselves. Without them, we wouldn’t be here today.

Now I want you to hold on to those feelings of appreciation and joy because they are not only reserved for those we love but also apply to those we dislike. If this election season and past year have taught me anything, it’s that it is easy to give into fear and cynicism. We cast off people we see as different simply because we believe preconceived notions of who they are and even what they can become.

We rely on labels to make snap judgements: poor or rich, Democrat or Republican, smart or dumb. However, in doing so, we forget the common thread that unites us: our humanity. Regardless of our differences, the blood that runs through every person’s veins is still dark red. In a world where issues are waged as a battle between wrong and right, it becomes more important than ever to seek common ground and unite as human beings.

We should recognize that even though we are all unique individuals, we have one shared experience: graduating from Enloe High School. Our four years together should be enough – to drive conversations, inspire respect, and promote civil interactions. I urge every person in this room to look beyond what distinguishes us and instead search for what connects us.

I’ll admit – we certainly don’t have the same daily struggles. But, we should try to understand those who have distinct life experiences from us, viewing them not as combatants, but potential friends. While some in our class were stressing over which college to choose from, others were worried about how they would foot the bill for the next four years.

This divide, whether by race, gender, or class, has prevented compassion and genuine human interaction. This is the message I want to leave you with. Whether your next step is going to college, entering the job market, or serving our nation, know that you will encounter people who may have different stories than your own. However, that does not make those stories any less important.

So Enloe Class of 2017 let’s work toward cooperation, not division, understanding, not indifference, and love, not hate. Thank you and congratulations.”