Friday, June 13, 2014

My Speech to the Graduates

A few weeks ago I sat down and wrote my speech and it was good. Traditional, but solid. The next day, I was talking to the grad committee execs and I mentioned I was struggling between writing a traditional speech or a very creative one and Asha said "I can't imagine you doing a traditional speech". She was right, so I went home and scrapped the first one and wrote a new speech in typical-Paley style. My wife read it and said they will think something is wrong with you or that you've taken too many frisbees to the head. I said "they probably already think that", but then sat down to strike a happy medium between the boring and traditional and the creative and silly. This is that speech. I wanted a speech that would sound like it is coming out of my mouth and now it will.

It all started in 2009.

In the spring of your grade 7 year my first memories include meeting Chris Bandura in Money Sandhu's class at Cunningham, having Tessa embarrass Theo in Ms. Wallace's class at Beaconsfield, being greeted by Jessica Saligumba the office monitor at Norquay, getting questioned by Daina Baker in Mr. Rudd's class at Selkirk, having Gerald Soriano introduce me to his brother Gordon at McBride and having Mr. McNichol (my grade 5 teacher) introduce me to Mashal and Ronny Shalala at Tecumseh.

I remember meeting all of you and you were all like small and I was all like "sup?" and you were all like not talking and I was all like "look at me, I'm a counsellor" and you were all like "whatever" and I was all nodding my head and stuff. Grade 8 feels like a long long time ago but also like it was last week.

I remember the first assembly of grade 8 and talking to you all. I told you all about myself and how I loved purple, ultimate frisbee and Glee. Five years later two of those things are still true. At the time, I was really missing my previous grade 12s from the spring and wondering if I would grow similarly attached to this new, much shorter and younger group of students. I was excited to meet you, but I honestly, I wasn't that impressed with what I first saw. Kidding! You were awesome, I mean are awesome, I mean you smack of awesomeness and if I could make you into a really great smoothie, it would be the most awesome smoothie ever. That's right. That awesome.

I remember you were all so cute and now you are slightly less cute. Or just differently cute. It depends on the lighting in the room and how clean my glasses are. I once contemplated planting 253 flowers, one to represent each of you, but then I thought about how the flowers would eventually wilt and die. Then I thought I could dry the petals and make beautiful artwork with them, but then the art would eventually fade and look old. Then I remembered that old art often goes up in value and I could potentially make millions, but when I thought about it, I realized that I didn't have room to plan all of those flowers in the first place, so I decided to go out for ice cream instead.

I remember going into your English 8 classes and we did an exercise where you had to choose 10 words from a long list of values and write one on each of 10 slips of paper and we narrowed it down until you only had one left. This word was supposed to describe the most important thing in the world to you. Some people selected family, others had love, some of you had money. We also worked on your grade 8 letter and I told you all about what a counsellor does and what confidentially means. Many of you were super quiet and shy and unsure of who I was and whether I could be trusted. It was as if I was carrying a huge colourful flag that said "trust me!" and you all were part of some exclusive and mostly silent club that refused to acknowledge flags of any type, especially mine. My office had just been so busy the previous spring with grade 12s in and around my office all day long and now it was so quiet. I read files, I looked at notes, I asked teachers for referrals and I dreamed a crazy dream that one day I may be fortunate enough to have my own creative writing blog and that maybe, just maybe I'd meet a group of roughly 250 people, let's call them students, who may or may not read or roll their eyes at such blog. I know, it was crazy. But a man can dream, and dream I did. And I waited for students to start coming down to see me. And little by little you came. And the word must have spread that that counsellor guy was okay to talk to, maybe a little bit funny and had some good advice and loved to listen and help and as time went on it got pretty busy all up in there. As I like to say, we all done chill all up in my crib.

I remember one of the things I first told you when I met you back in grade 7 - that's it. I forget everything else. Its probably better that way. Anyways, I said to you that I wanted to be your adult friend in the building, someone who always would be there for you and someone who would always be wanting the best for all of you. I hope that you feel like I was and I hope that didn't sound too desperate! I just wanted a friend. When I look around the room tonight, I just feel so proud or all of you. Except for the following people...Anyways, it is strange to say, but I feel like some combination of your father, your older brother, a good friend and your own personal cheerleader minus the Pom poms and dress. Don't push me or I'll wear them! I have seen you all grow and change and mature, thankfully not all at once - that would be scary. I have seen many of you make mistakes and learn from them. I have seen friendships grow, fall apart and come together again. I have tried my best to help you learn to better communicate with each other and I have attemped to resolve so many disagreements. I have seen a lot of tears and an even greater amount of laughs and smiles and a few times people laughed and cried at the same time - I sat there waiting for the rainbow, that never came. I always dove in driven by my desire to help. You have all taught me so much and helped me become better at what I love to do. Cha-ching!

I remember students wanting to talk just to miss the run in PE, or because they had math or something else they didn't mind missing. How many times have I been used as an excuse to miss part of class? And why do people say to their teacher I'm just going to the washroom and then come see me - what does that mean? Don't answer!

I remember the wooden penis when Condomania came to school. And I remember the advice - if this happens to you, go directly to the hospital.

I remember when the girls took off their glasses, moved from straight bangs to side bangs and started wearing fake eyelashes (I'm still waiting for my pair - I did ask and I was promised. I wanted a pair and frankly I feel pretty annoyed about this still).

I remember the boys in their PE outfits in grade 8 and seeing them run up and down the stairs. Somehow the boys went from quiet and small to mature (or at least more mature) and tall.

I remember walking into classes early in the year with a stack of new schedules and seeing the panic on people's faces.

I remember the anonymous questions people wrote for the school nurse about sex.

I will always remember the long detailed emails with tons of personal stuff that many if you sent me.

I will always remember walking down the hallways this year and being greeted in a positive manner by almost everyone.

I will always remember the amazingly nice comments in my yearbooks and my birthday cards.

I will always remember all of you.

I just can't believe we are here right now.

Look at you all, so dressed up.

It is the freaking dinner dance people! What is going on? How could it be that time already - wasn't I just watching the first dance show back in grade 8? Weren't a bunch of you hanging out in my office during those exam days back in grade 9 after finishing Safe Teen? Wasn't I just in the computer lab with all of you doing those personality and career tests in grade 10? Wasn't I just showing you, what I thought was, my funny and super long opening to my course planning power point in grade 11? And doesn't it feel like the grad BBQ and all of those popping balloons was last week?

Look around for a second. Great neck stretch, wasn't it. That's good. All of the people here shared this experience with you. Whether they were your best friend, someone you talked to in class or someone you don't know at all, you all share this bond and you always will. We all went through this great Gladstone experience together and I hope you are able to look back on these 5 years with a lot of great memories.

I have really enjoyed this year. I love that students just pop in to say hi and hang out (even when it's mostly an excuse to miss class) – I love when students just come by and chat about things and I can be loose and funny – it will be so different with younger students next year. I have wondered a bit about what I did to get you from being too shy to talk to me to where we are now. Was it mind-control? Did it come out of pity or absolute boredom? Did you think I had candy?Was it because I looked like I was interested in what you had to say? Wait a second- that one. I think that is the answer! Did I get it right?

I can’t state strongly enough how much it has meant to me to work with all of you – I don’t just show up to work and do my work and go home (actually, I do that BUT that’s not the point - I mean, of course I go home) – this has always been all about you, the students – I really care about each of you as people and human beings and I have tried to support you and be there for you as best I could.

I am so lucky that I can wake up every morning and be happy to come to work. My job is challenging, enjoyable and satisfying and I get to talk and help people, two things I love to do. Plus I can be a bit silly and creative from time to time as well which is a bonus. The other part of my job which is great for me is that I feel like I'm making a difference and having an impact.

What I hope for all of you is that you can find something like this for yourself. The challenge, if you want to except it, is to keep searching for your passions in life and don't settle for something you don't love or enjoy. So many people are stuck in jobs, places or relationships that don't work for them. Don't let this happen to you! Everything you start next year or the year after should either be really great or be an obvious step towards something really great. If at any point in the next few years you find yourself hating or being bored with what you are doing, then stop! If at any point you aren't working towards something you are passionate about and excited to do - stop! Just because your family or friends or someone else thinks something is right for you, doesn't mean it is. And just because you start down a certain path doesn't mean you have to stay on that path. I switched paths many times and only by experiencing some wrong paths did I find the right one. Everyone here has tons of skills and talents and all of you have the potential to do a lot in life - my hope for all of you is that when I see you in the future that you are pumped about what is going on (just not too pumped, or I may run away) or that you have a plan to work towards something exciting. This is true about post-secondary studies, jobs and relationships - don't settle!

I envy you and not just because of your clothes and your social networking savvy. You are at, what I think, is the most exciting time of your life and also one of the most stressful - you are about to enter the real world. All of sudden you are going from having one choice, school, to having unlimited choices about school, what school, what program, travelling, work etc etc. Choice is awesome but it can also make you worry about making the correct choice. I remember being in your shoes and how exciting it was to start post-secondary and to start working longer hours to save up for a backpacking trip in Europe. I remember moving out of my parents home and having more freedom. I remember thinking "woah, I'm an adult now" and "damn, now that's an afro!" and "what happens if I just use scissors to cut off that pimple?" Don't be consumed by worrying about making the right choices - live in the moment, work hard and be a good person and I have always believed that everything will work out in the end. And just enjoy having graduated! I can't wait to see and hear what you all do next and in the future (I'm also prepared to use my other three senses - hard to taste what you will do in the future, but I am willing to try). Who will get married? Who will travel? Who will become a nurse, a teacher, an engineer, a chef, a stand-up comic? Who will do something that no one here could predict? Who will make choices that lead directly towards their own happiness and personal satisfaction?

My hope when I first met you was to help support you from the beginning of grade 8 to the end of grade 12. And here we are. But, in my mind, it doesn't end now. As I said in my card I will always be your counsellor. That isn't meant to sound scary! Don't leave now! I promise I will not stalk you...much. So, whether you ever talked to me in the past 5 years or whether you saw me all the time, I will always be there to help you whether it is over the summer, next year or in 10 years. I really really mean that and I'm not just saying it and sometimes I do just say things. Last week I did it a few times. I am your counsellor and, if you'll have me, your friend and I will always be interested in what is happening with you. You all have ways to reach me and I will be happy to help.

At the beginning of the year I talked about having mixed emotions about this whole graduation thing. I mean I wish I was consulted about you all graduating - I may have said no. Let's do another 5 years! Who's in? But seriously, I feel a mixture of pride, happiness and a bit of sadness. Honestly, I've been thinking about this moment since the middle of grade 10 and while I couldn't wait to see you cross the stage (I have been getting goosebumps thinking about it for a long time now. While we are on the subject, do geese get goosebumps? I hope so, for their sakes), I've also just wanted time to slow down and almost stop. I feel like this with my own kids all the time too and I know many of you have felt this way about this year as well. There has been a lot of unspoken stress and unease recently as the end draws near. You won't just see all of your friends every day any more. You won't be in a school where a whole bunch of adults really care about you again. Maybe there is someone who you always wished to talk to, to get to know better, to say how you really feel. I have seen so many friendships drift apart when people have left school. Friendships will require more work once you are not at Gladstone any longer and if you care about your friends, don't let that happen!

While this is a super exiting time for all of you, it is also so tough to say goodbye and to leave a place you have spent so much valuable time. I have not been looking forward to saying goodbye and while I hope many of you will either visit or send me messages, this is the last time (aside from the provincial exam) that we will all be together and that is tough. This is both a celebration and a farewell.

I want to thank you for introducing me to shipping, the word ratchet, SOs, twerking, flipping tables, facepalming, lolling and of course, Yolo.

I need to thank you all for allowing me to be myself and for all of the positive feedback on my writing. And a huge thank you to that small group of you who encouraged me to start a blog in the first place - you know who you are and I thank you for your help.

I will really miss all of you. I guess it is a sign that I really care and I really got involved, but it also feels sort of like having a whole bunch of you breaking up with me all at the same time and sort of enjoying it. Almost like you are celebrating while doing it. Actually maybe I won't miss you. How does that feel? I wish you all the best, you know how to find me. Thank you again for trusting me and making me laugh and for making me feel so appreciated every day – thank you for everything!

Enjoy the party and congrats on graduating!