Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The big speech is done!

Phew. That was stressful. Not sure why, but I fretted about this speech all week, and as everyone predicted, it went really well. I didn't choke on a cough drop or trip or pass out. Ridiculous, in hindsight. It was actually really nice to be able to address so many students and parents in one place. The podium was firm and my voice was clear. Here is the middle part of the speech, skipping the intro and conclusion... a glimpse of my college self for you. My kids loved knowing that I too stayed up all night writing papers, and many parents commented that I took them right back to that proud, scholarly feeling. It was actually fun!
(confession: I wasn't in NHS in high school. I don't even remember it existing?)


Your induction tonight proves that you have worked very hard and met great success so far in your lives. You have stayed up late studying, you have read carefully and critically, you have spent hours fine-tuning your talents, whether they be musical, athletic, civic. And you have balanced your busy lives with school and your families. You have also been brave and honorable and kind along the way. Your teachers, your parents, your grandparents, your community, are all very proud of you.

What I wish for all of you, is that at least some of all the work you have done
to be here tonight, has been for yourself. Not for your parents’ praise, or your grades, or for how the NHS will look on your resume or college application. What will really make you a happy and successful person in your life is acting for yourself, and being motivated by your own joy. When you are driven by your own desire and passion and love for your work, you will feel so fulfilled. You may not be able to say yet, that you work so hard for the pure joy of it.
You may be thinking, “Yeah, right! That was JOY that kept me up half the night studying!”

Honestly, it may be true that right now you are driven by your parents’ expectations or grades or getting into a good college. And that’s great! And you are lucky to have been pushed. But I do wish for you a moment when the very most important factor in your drive for excellence is yourself.

I actually remember the night that I felt that drive to succeed transfer into myself. I studied English at the University of Michigan, and somewhere during my junior year, I had a moment I’d like to share with you. One night I was working in the 24-hour computer lab, right in the middle of the old, beautiful campus, on a paper for a class on Holocaust Literature. The paper was due in the morning, so after dinner, I had walked onto campus and settled into one of the cubicles and began to turn all my notes into a paper. Eight hours and 25 pages later, around 3 a.m., I emerged into the night, and it was totally hushed and quiet. Unbeknownst to me, it had been snowing for a few hours and everything was covered in a fresh, white dusting. Walking home that night, I knew that I had written a really good paper, and that I had wrung out every last drop of the analysis and creativity in my brain. I trudged across the campus under the snow and soft lights. And I was unbelievably happy. Why was I so happy?

I was happy because I was done, and I had done a good job, I had finally crystallized onto paper all those ideas I had been shuffling around in my mind.
But what made me feel the most joy, and I actually thought about it at that moment, is that it didn’t matter what grade I was going to get, and I didn’t need any feedback from anyone to feel good about what I had done. Studying English and working my very hardest on my studies was the most important thing to me at that time in my life. No matter what kind of praise or grade or degree I would get for it, the joy I received from the act of doing it was enough.

You have all been told throughout your lives that you can do anything you set your mind to, or that you can go anywhere, and have any job if you work hard enough. I’m sure this is true. But what I really want you to think about is what, in your life, will make you feel proud and exhilarated and totally satisfied?

And once you experience that feeling of joy, once you have the honor of knowing yourself that well, then, your future is limitless. You will follow your passion to completion, and you will find success as YOU define it.

Clearly, You are WELL on your way.
(the end)


Boy, will I sleep well tonight! Good night.

4 comments:

beth said...

Wonderful and inspiring speech, Emilie. It must have meant a lot to your students and to their parents. I'm a proud Mom. Now next time you will actually look forward to giving a speech instead of being nervous

Sarah said...

yeay for you!
but i thought you went to Michigan State? Am i remembering wrong?

Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine said...

Great Speech. As a former NHS (and Junior NHS) member I am inspired :o) In fact, I think I still have my membership card upstairs in my archives. Knowing exactly where everything is - now that makes me happy and proud :o) Job well done Emilie!