Monday, June 18, 2007

Sharing a trip down Memory Lane

I've just taken an interesting trip down memory lane. My mother sent all my school yearbooks to me a few weeks ago and I just got around to opening the box. To my surprise she also included my high school diploma which was in a fancy folder. Inside that folder was my valedictorian speech. Considering graduation year was 1968, I didn't remember what I'd said, so I re-read it. My overall point was we can't deal with each other successfully if we don't hold each other in mutual respect. I was referring to racial tensions on the societal level as well as the tensions between parents and children on the personal level.

Keep in mind I grew up seeing separate water fountains and toilets "for colored only" and there had been a race riot in Washington DC that year (I remember watching smoke from the fires from a friend's apartment which was on the river near the George Washington Bridge). Civil rights was a new concept and not universally accepted. Also, many of my friends came from broken homes or had parents that just didn't pay any attention to their kids. When Bill read it he said I sounded very mature for a 17 year old. I was just amazed (and saddened) to realize I'm still banging that same drum. *sigh*

Jen suggested I could post it here, so without further ado, I present my very first speech:

An ancient Greek philosopher once said, “The state is the man writ large.” We could paraphrase that and say that society is the family written large. We have heard repeatedly that our modern society is sick. When we see all the violence and revolution, both political and social, that dominates the news media today, we can indeed know that society is not in robust health. I will not make judgment as to whether this turmoil is a necessary part of evolution towards something better or whether we are convulsing with the pangs of decadence that have set upon us, but obviously something is not right. If society is indeed sick, then I submit that the family is also sick. What virus has infected our families to cause this illness? Doubtless its name is Legion. We could name several, and affluence ranks high among them. However, it is my diagnosis as a relatively inexperienced but very much involved young person that the most deadly virus that has infected our family lives and is mirrored in our society is a lack of understanding based on mutual respect.

We see the expression of this problem in the nations of the world. The United States and France are two historically national friends who have shared common destinies and have built the superstructure of their respective states on common philosophical foundations. Now they find their relationship in a state of rupture and we must point our finger at a gross lack of understanding and a loss of mutual respect. The so-called “Cold War” is a universal expression of the same problem.

Within the individual nations we have the races at each other’s throats. We do not need to be reminded of Selma, Watts, Detroit and our own front door, Washington, DC, where we have seen the horrible evidence of a lack of understanding between the races of men.

And what shall we say of the most recent phenomenon in our community, where one socio-economic class is making threatening demands of another class? What traumatic proportion will this lack of understanding reach before we face each other in common respect and see that the problem of poverty belongs to us all.

It seems that the “in” word today is gap. We have the “missile gap” and the “credibility gap”, and now we dismiss the historical lack of communication between the young and not young enough, as a “generation gap”. Oh well, it looks like the “generation gap” is going to take care of itself pretty soon. The kids can’t wait to get all the privileges and license of the adult world, while the aging population is making the cosmetic industry one of the biggest businesses is the country by trying to stay young.

We have painted a gloomy picture of nations, races, classes and generations, but it seems to me that the lowest common denominator in this whole matter is the problem of the individual. We can pass minimum wage laws, guarantee a certain income, give higher social security and set up firearms control; but let us not live with the unrealistic ideas that we can legislate an individual’s morality. This does not mean that we are relieved of the obligation of good legislation, however.

You people who complain about these situations, do you do something about them or do you just complain about them? “All the world loves a lover” and tolerates the complainer. But to those of you who want to help, I have a solution that is almost impossible in it’s simplicity. Each man must be changed by an act of his own will. If we are going to destroy this virus that infects our society and families it must be destroyed in me and in you. The poor man must stand in the affluent man’s shoes just as much as the affluent man must stand in the poor man’ shoes in order to understand each other. I cannot help to ease the tension between the races until I, by an act of my own will, determine to understand why a man of another race looks upon me with suspicion and I likewise upon him. This is the beginning of understanding. If a gap indeed does exist between generations, it exists as an individual problem and must be solved as such. If you and your parents do not communicate, if you are sick over the gap that exists between you and your child, let me assure you that you search in vain if you are looking for a psychiatrist or legislator to close that gap for you. When you really want to communicate and are willing to indulge yourself in a moment of tolerance, mutual respect and unselfishness, in that moment the bridge over that gap has gone under construction.

I warned you that this solution was almost impossible in its simplicity but there it is. Let us be realistic now and stop looking for a human messiah to elect to a political office or some miracle of modern science to lead us painlessly into a utopia. We have one set of alternatives - understanding between men and nations based on tolerance and mutual respect, or utter chaos. The choice is ours.

I imagine this was a real snooze-fest for my fellow students but I was supposed to give a socially relevant and inspirational speech. The Salutorian got to give the funny speech which spoofed his classmates. Lucky guy.


  1. Wow Linda. Bill was right. Very insightful and mature for a 17 year old.

    And what shall we say of the most recent phenomenon in our community, where one socio-economic class is making threatening demands of another class? What traumatic proportion will this lack of understanding reach before we face each other in common respect and see that the problem of poverty belongs to us all.

    I think this is still the biggest problem facing the US today, and is at the root of many if not all of our racial problems. I think that LBJ was the last president to really address this in any significant way. I sure hope that whoever gets elected will make it a priority. I suppose it's one of the reasons I support Edwards.

    Thanks for posting your speech. Very timely, still.

  2. Oh, and I'm loving your senior portrait! As beautiful then as you are today :)

  3. Thank you Lori. You're sweet.

    It was quite frustrating to read this 39 years later and find that NOTHING HAS CHANGED. I was so idealistic back then, I thought my generation was going to change the world. *sigh*

  4. You are an amazing woman Linda. Apparently you have been for a while. *smile* Your friends knew this. Thank you for sharing!

  5. This evoked tears. It spoke to events I've witnessed or lived my entire life. Mature, insightful, hopeful, and tough. At 17. You've been wise all along Linda. *g*

  6. Linda, I totally loved that speech. Very inspirational.


Have you read it? What do you think?

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