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NHS

As co-advisor of National Honor Society, it was my job to secure the guest speaker for the induction ceremony.  In the past, this job had led me to driving across the state (having a friend do one leg too) to pick up an Abraham Lincoln impersonator to inspire our kids.  With school renovations underway and induction shifting to the stageless cafeteria, I couldn’t bring myself to plead with a local celebrity to be our guest of honor.  I decided this year I would fill the role in the hopes students would connect with me, and thus my message as I am someone they know well.

Gathering before the ceremony started, everyone looked pretty displeased that I had several pages of medium typed font in front of me.  I had actually written a speech in two parts so I could feel the audience out and continue on if I still needed to make my point, or stop at the first ending spot if I had made my point adequately or it was running too long.  I asked a couple students if they wanted the long version or the short version, and no surprise the small informal poll yielded no students voting for the long version.  I guess this means I can be guest speaker again next year since I already wrote what works out to a second speech.  The transcript of the speech I actually gave follows.

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It was just ten years ago that I was sitting in the position of the new inductees behind me.  And while I like to tell people that I am 59 years old and just aging well as a way to establish reputability as an authority figure, I am only 28 and graduated from Sheehan high school in 2005.  I remember sitting at our very formal induction ceremony in the library, entering and exiting with candles ablaze in a ritual that I likened to a cult induction at the time.  I really had no clue what NHS was all about, I just knew I got good grades, did a lot of community service and somehow ended up in this organization surrounded by all the top brainiacs in the school, knowing this would look good on my resume.

When the guest speaker took to the podium, I struggled to understand his initial words through his heavy spanish accent.  This man was a Costa Rican banana farmer, which I thought sounded so cool and adventurous at the time.  My mind wandered to thoughts of jungle canopies and tropical weather with great surfing and ziplining.  I wondered if I could move to Costa Rica and how much my mother would be upset if the idea of plentiful yellow-peeled fruit would lure me to a foreign country.  The daydreaming was shaken off when this man started to actually describe his day to day life and as I focused in, every syllable of his life’s story hit me right square in the heart.

Working for 16 hours in jungle heat, with a shirt tied around his head to protect him from the sun and absorb endless waterfalls of sweat, he had to tie surgical tubing around his arm as a tourniquet because hours of overhead slashing with a machete caused SEVERE pain.  That was the one thing I can vividly recall; I distinctly remember thinking, “holy______” (expletive deleted).   I mean try to simply hold your arms above your head for two minutes and you’ll understand half-a-percent of his struggle.  Diving deeper into this thought shook my very existence as a white middle-class youth.  This was one of those made for TV moments where the camera would pan away from the speaker, and zoom in on me as my the wow factor coursing through my naive little mind pushed my head back to make my eyes bulge and my chin appear in triplicate. The world was so much bigger and much more full of pain than I had ever cared to realize.

This man….he took on this chopping challenge every day because it’s what he needed to do to support his family of 6 kids..even though daily pay was a pittance, it was the only work available.  And let it be known that this was 16 HOURS!!! 7 DAYS A WEEK!!!! Go to Price Chopper right now and you will see that bananas are only $0.49/lb with most of the profit being siphoned off by middle-men and suppliers.  This man however was not at our induction to beg for money, or to highlight the plight of a farmer.  He exuded pride as he talked about how hard he worked for his end goal of supporting his family.

This man was brought to us to talk about the NHS pillar of character.  He was proud to have this opportunity to provide for those whom he loved. He did not think the job was below him, or reject it because he was clearly intelligent and much more educated than you might think of your typical second-world farm-laborer to be.  But he was willing to do the job that many people simply wrote off as beneath them, or too difficult. As Thomas Edison used to say, “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  You see this is the generation that constantly gets a barrage of bad press of being lazy and not caring, but I see the group behind me as the epitome of answering the call to service.  As they can now, may they forever be able to recognize and create opportunities with whatever lies before them. Most importantly, I hope they will not just wait for opportunity to come to them, but to be ambitious enough to seek it out.

Try new things, get a world of experience.  You will learn SOOO much, you will be able to determine what you love and what you need out of life.  Even if you think an opportunity is not up to par with your standards have confidence that the smallest opportunities seized by driven individuals can be built beyond your wildest dreams. Just a generational comparison to think about: My grandparents’ generation had a word for flipping burgers…something that is characterized as low end and meaningless.  They called it “opportunity.” That is what I was taught to do as an NHS member myself, and that’s what I know all these fine young men and women behind me will continue to do.

The pillars of Character, Service, Leadership and Scholarship are not just whirlwind virtues that look good on paper, it is what your peers, a council of your teachers, your school administrators, and your family all know to be the capital “T” truth of what they see in you.  Don’t sell your potential short in all the days from this one to the last.  Right now you are surrounded by people who not only recognize and applaud your accomplishments to this point, but who believe in your potential to the very depths of our core  to make your mark on this world.  Use this moment of being part of an organization that supports excellence to reach out and make a difference to everyone in every way possible.  As you continue on this path, may you always feel the love from all corners of this room and beyond.  Know that wherever you are and wherever you are going, we are proud of you, and we believe in you.

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1) It’s free
2) You’re not worried about a date, you just want to enjoy the food and dance
3) No one gets jealous over who you dance with/near
4) There’s no after party, you can just go home and sleep afterwards
5) No one asks you to dance because they are all your students so you don’t have to worry about awkward pairings you didn’t want to be a part of in the first place
6) No corsage to purchase or boutineer…man those things were a pain to pin on
7) No date demanding that you match them perfectly
8) You have more self confidence and care less about what other people think so there is no cares about how silly your dancing looks
9) You don’t have to rent a tux, clothing you already own will suffice
10) There’s no feeling that makes you happier than perching on the stairs for the last song, watching everyone come together to belt out “Don’t Stop Believing”

Bonus: Seeing how sweet and inclusive everyone is of students with disabilities.

All in all, prom is pretty awesome when you’re 26. I hope it’s just as cool at 27.

My senior prom at the Aquaturf in Southington with my beautiful date, Chelsea.

My senior prom at the Aquaturf in Southington with my beautiful date, Chelsea.

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