More Than Just a Path
James Waugh's valedictory speech from the Athens Academy graduation on May 29.
Good Evening. Fellow classmates, as we all know, today marks a very unusual day. As children, we could blindly follow our every impulse, passing temporarily through many flaws and shortcomings without permanent damage to our identities. The outside understanding of our developmental state prevented these flaws from taking hold; they could not yet become a part of us because we didn’t know any better. I know that on the playgrounds of the Lower School, I often displayed a ridiculous temper, and in middle school, in addition to being the proud owner of some seriously chubby cheeks, I had a bad case of social awkwardness, but I can look back on those stages without regret. I believe those silly phases, along with many, more-significant flaws, were necessary steps toward maturity, and they only occurred because I lacked the capacity to understand what I do now. However, as new adults, we head out into this world having gathered new accountability. Every future decision and action will contribute to a running definition of who we are as human beings, and although this brings considerable responsibility, with this truly fresh slate, each of us can grow to be whoever and whatever we want to become.
Knowing this, naturally we turn to several, terrifying questions, questions driven into our minds by the perpetual relevance of their answers. What are we going to do with our lives? Where will we go? Who and What will we be? And, most importantly, How will we get there? Throughout years of my own attempts to answer these questions, I often calmed myself down with the idea that “the future isn’t here yet.” Though, as we gather here tonight, I recognize that it is officially here. But, I have realized something else as well. I have realized that the terrifying questions I focused so intently on were only one small aspect of life’s true mystery, and as a result of this misplaced focus, I managed to distract myself from the full extent of my purpose. All of us seek more than just a path; what we truly want is to discover our own ultimate experience. More than simple happiness, we desire the feeling of perfect fulfillment, a life clearly defined by a passion with potential to impact the world, where the question is not what we feel obligated to do, but what we are naturally driven to do, and the result is larger than ourselves.
That being so, leave this room charged with all 18 years worth of excitement. Go ahead and try to be the best in the world at something because even though there are almost 7 billion people in this world, possibility will always remain infinite. Follow what you love, and allow your individual resources to unlock real opportunity. Involve yourself in something so important to you that failure becomes meaningless, and as a result, you will naturally succeed, if not by reaching your ideal, at least by coming closer than was ever possible before. Though ending world hunger or achieving world peace may be impossible goals, where would the world be without the attempt? You see, fearless commitment will serve as both a cause and an effect, sparking a chain reaction toward fulfillment that can fuel itself forever. Fight for what you believe in, but always keep an open mind. Allow yourself to take control of your life, never falling to illusions of a predetermined path. Try things that you never planned to try, practice faith in the affirmative, and never feel reluctant to wander. Avoid searching for reasons not to do something. Take that intriguing class that has nothing to do with your major, and reach out to new people, especially those different from yourself. After all, as Joseph Campbell said, “we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to live the life that is waiting for us”.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, remember. Remember the beginning in order to preserve what you learned through your journey. We must not merely live in one of the past, present, or future, but rather draw something from each: Lessons learned from the past, passion from the present and dreams from the future. So tonight, hug your teachers, give endless thanks to your parents and create some meaningful memories with your friends, but know that what maintains further meaning occurs after all of that. It could be your desperate attempts to relive a double-overtime victory on the intramural fields; catching up with teachers over enthusiastic emails, letting them know just how much they changed your lives; stories excitedly shared with old friends over breaks and holidays; or even a surprise visit to home, just because you felt like it. These true emotional displays easily prove the things that we want so desperately to show. So, never forget this moment, this town, this school, or each other. I suspect already that you won’t. And, if you get the chance, act on those recurring urges of your memories because even if you have said goodbye, you know you haven’t really said goodbye. Personally, I know that I will always answer a call. Each and every one of you has meant so much to those around you, myself included, and I cannot wait to hear the amazing things that all of you will achieve. Thank you so much, and congratulations, Athens Academy Class of 2011.