Salutatorian’s address, Warwick High School, Class of 1989

One of Æsop’s Fables deals w/a grasshopper who had survived the fall & now, in winter, happened upon a troop of ants. Frozen and starving, he begged the ants to take him in as a fellow insect. The ants asked him why he was hungry; had he not stored up on his food during the summer? Why no, the grasshopper said; he had been too busy playing during the summer, and he was unprepared for the winter.

In a like manner have we been preparing ourselves for a winter. During the summer of our public school career, shall we say, we have been preparing for this moment and for the future ahead. We stuck through when it got difficult, and now we are at the culmination of our careers. We are ready for what comes ahead.

Nevertheless, we must not sit back now and pat ourselves on the back. We can’t fall prey to laziness and apathy, or we shall not be ready. The diploma means little without the initiative. Life is not the simple game it has been so far; we must continue to learn, to prepare.

Out there is a predator’s world, with jaws opened wide, awaiting what it expects to be an easy catch. Already, we’ve taken the first steps toward avoiding it and proceeding toward our goals. If we can continue, then we shall indeed be fortunate.

Remark: I thought this was lost, but apparently my American grandmother secured and held on to a page of my notes after I delivered the salutatorian’s address. The writing is definitely mine, and on the back of the single page her handwriting records, “Jacky’s notes for his salutatorian address when he graduated from Warwick High School.” The last paragraph is written with a different color of ink, suggesting it’s a draft.

I do remember giving a speech somewhat to this effect, but the analogy is a bit hard to follow without a bit of thought (are “we” the ants or the cricket”?) and I don’t recall at all the image of a predator’s jaws. I lost any other notes I may have had, so I am grateful that she preserved them. I doubt many would consider them a model address, but the basic notion is sound: graduation is not the end of learning, and it entitles us to nothing. There are no guarantees; we still have to take initiative.

I suspect the final version differed from this somewhat. I’m quite sure I would have acknowledged in some manner the gratitude we owed our instructors, but this is a close-to-final draft. Sadly, a thoughtless oversight of this sort is perfectly consistent with my obsessive habits of thinking.

Perhaps someday I shall include a revision based on thirty years’ lived experience. I would probably aim for what a retiring Dean of Students at the University of Southern Mississippi told one graduating class:

Graduates! You may be wondering how you can now best please your parents, contribute to society, and find fulfillment in life. For you I have three words: Get a job.

The stadium erupted with parents’ applause.

I’ve sat through speeches from famous authors (Maya Lou Angelo and William Raspberry), mayors of New York (Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg), local politicians and judges, accomplished alumni, and university officials. I’m not sure how the students felt, but that was the best graduation speech I ever heard.