Culmination Address for the Class of 2015

"Make each day your masterpiece."
Coach Wooden and the Class of 2015
Over the past couple of years, a dedicated teacher at my school has founded and grown an award-winning speech and debate team. This year, she and I worked together to select speakers for our eighth grade graduation using the speech and debate guidelines for writing an Original Oratory. I have been awed whenever I hear these students speak and prepare for competition, and after seeing the expectations for this particular speech competition, I decided to try to write one as well. I haven't made an attempt at a graduation speech since I was in eighth grade, so it was an interesting exercise. I read it to my students this past week because they all helped me through a difficult time in my life. They have, and so have you, so I thought I'd share it here as well.


Just over a year ago my mom underwent surgery. It was eighth grade field day and I received text updates from my sister as I watched my students soaking in the sun and pools. I stood with my feet in the grass enjoying a few final hours with these students, but my mind often drifted to my mom, hoping for the best.

Over the next few days, Mom’s condition worsened so I flew up to Oregon to be with her and for the first time in fifteen years, I missed Emerson’s graduation. I sat in a cold hospital room while my students crossed the stage, making their way out of my classroom and into the world.

That is when I began months of missing, missing the students I never said goodbye to, and missing my mom who never recovered and crossed over a few days later. In these months of missing, I lived in the memories of the past. I remembered many moments with my students from the school year, and I remembered a lifetime of moments with my mom.

I was still remembering and missing when this school year began. My drive home was always the hardest part of my day. I used to call my mom each day as I drove home and as I navigated the busy LA streets, those streets bore witness to many tender moments of grief. At school, I missed the familiarity of my former students and thought of them as they started at high schools all over the city, hoping only for the absolute best for all of them.

But as the days and weeks passed, as summer gave way to fall, I started to move into the present. Instead of grieving for my mom as I drove home from work I began to think about what she might say to me today. As I got to know my new students, they brought with them joy, curiosity, and new stories to share.

Great American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could.”

I needed these words to remind me to let go of all my yesterdays and begin again to live: today. I needed these words to help me remember my mom and my former students, to allow them to continue to teach me, but I needed to stay grounded in the present, to be here: today.

Emerson also says, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Today this might be easier to do than every other day because today is your graduation. Today we celebrate all you have accomplished; all of your hard work and perseverance but isn’t that what every day is? Hasn’t every today been built on all of the hard work of every day that came before?

Yes. I am the sum of all of my days, as are you, but I will try to let go of yesterday and live in today, in the present, in the moment, with you, the people who with me share these days, these experiences, these moments.

While I was with my mom in her final days, I read Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being. In it one of the narrators states: “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

My mom was a time being and because she continues to be with me, she is forever one of my time beings. You, every one of you, is a time being, as are all of my students from last year and the year before that. You are all my time beings as are all of my students yet to come.

So as you cross this stage and graduate into a new chapter in your life, I urge you to live each day. Let go of yesterday, be done with it, and make space in today for all of your time beings. Stay present in your life. Remember the past, learn from it, and then let it go. Coach John Wooden says, “Make each day your masterpiece.” I cannot wait to see what you create in your lifetime of todays.

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