Good evening, graduates, faculty, and family. It’s an honor to be standing on this stage tonight, with the opportunity to speak to you all, but at the same time it’s very surreal. Everyone tells me that it won’t sink in that we’ve graduated for a few weeks, when we wake up and realize that we’re never coming back here. Say what you will about your high school experience — it’s different for everybody — but it is, undoubtedly, a one-of-a-kind experience that we will never get back.
You’ll all probably hear the word “bittersweet” tossed around a lot tonight, and with good reason. We’re all opening up a new chapter in our lives, which is truly a triumph. At the same time, however, we’re leaving behind a large part of ourselves in these halls, as well as the friends we made here. I hope that you all met someone who made you a better person for having found them, as I know that I am a better person for having found my friends. Ideally, I think, our interactions with people should leave them better than we found them; it reminds me of the campground rule, which is that, as a visitor to a beautiful place, you should leave it better than you found it. The campground rule says that it is not enough to simply refrain from adding to the mess and ugliness of a place — you should not only carry out your own trash, but also whatever waste was there to begin with. We all have a responsibility to make our world beautiful, and to protect it from those who have done it harm in the past. I think that we would all find that the world would be a better place if we treated the people in our lives with this same respect and love.
My friends probably didn’t realize how vital their support and friendship were to my personal growth, just as you might not realize how vital you are to someone else. Oftentimes, we underestimate ourselves and the impact we have on this world. It’s easy to measure yourself against the titans of history — Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, the kinds of names you hear tossed around in speeches like this one. But the real power to change the world stems not from changing societies; it begins with changing the life of a single individual, not through force or logic or even accomplishment, but through love.
There’s a theory in psychology that outlines the importance of something called “unconditional positive regard.” Therapists use it to provide support to their patients because, and science has proven this, we, as human beings, can grow more fully when someone loves us and respects us. It’s that feeling of safety you get, of realization that even if you falter, there are people in your life to catch you when you stumble, who won’t make fun of you for tripping over your own shoelaces.
I hope you all have people in your life who show you unconditional positive regard and unconditional love, but more than that, I hope you all become that for someone else, whether it’s your child, your spouse, your friends, your coworkers, or simply someone that you bump into in the street. We, as human beings, all have vastly different talents and aptitudes, but we all have the same beautiful, terrifying, and awe-inspiring capacity for love. For that reason, I urge you all to follow the campground rule. Leave a space, and a person, better than you found them, because that is how you change the world. It is my greatest hope that you all leave the people in your life better than you found them, that their lives are better for having known you. Because I know that mine is.
Thank you all, and congratulations to the Campo Verde High School class of 2014. Thank you for everything you’ve given me, everything you’ve given this school and each other, and everything you will go on to give to the world.