Parents and teachers, friends and family, welcome. And to my fellow graduates, congratulations. We made it.
When I realized I was going to have to make this valedictory speech, I was petrified. What could I say that would matter? What could I say that wouldn't bore you?
I thought about the commencement speech that made the news a few weeks ago. Speaker David McCullough Jr. of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts told students, "None of you is special. You're not special. You're not exceptional."
The actual speech has merit, but that sound bite, taken in isolation, is an ugly thing. Because you are special.
You are the star of your story. You are loved by your parents, or you should be. Your life has more potential than you realize.
McCullough might have been better off saying, "The world doesn't know you're special, so don't expect special treatment."
That would be good advice. Mark Twain was right: "The world owes you nothing." Any rest or luxury you enjoy was clawed and scraped by your ancestors from the great endless, wonderful struggle called life. You aren't too special to make French fries. You aren't too special to scrounge for pop bottles. You aren't too special to wind up bored, tired, confused and lost.
What it comes down to is choices. Some people say modern science indicates free will is an illusion. That may be. But focusing on that will do little to advance your life. Regardless of the truth, think of yourself as a free being whose task is to forge a life worth living.
You cannot have everything. But you can have the things you really, really want, if you show courage. Take judicious amounts of time choosing between option A or B, yes, but don't stall yourself in endless indecision. You will never have all the information you would like to have before making life-changing decisions. Don't wallow in regret. Do the best you can and make the best of the result.
It's a good life. Be bold and enjoy it.