Commencement Speech by Anne Walker
Good afternoon! It is a BEAUTIFUL day! Thank you for asking me to speak at this year’s graduation ceremony! I am honored to do so and I humbly offer up these words to you.
First, let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Anne, or as many call me, Mrs. Walker. I have taught English at Gray-New Gloucester High School for the past 25 years. Aside from the hundreds of teens I work with each year, I’m also a mom of three biological children at home--two girls, one boy, ages 24, 20, and 16. My husband Eric--who teaches math here at GNG--and I have been married for 27 years--we were once high school sweethearts growing up in Millinocket, Maine. It was in Millinocket that I was raised by two incredible people--my parents-- my champions, and a wonderfully supportive small town community much like this one. It’s probably significant for me to add that I am a romantic, a dreamer, a sentimentalist. I have long been known as someone who feels deeply and cries easily, BUT I am also as FIERCE as they come! (CACKLE!)
Are you okay? I apologize if I got your hearts racing there. My cackle is theatrical. It’s a gimmick I pull out when I teach William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as I introduce my students to the three weird sisters, the witches. It’s also, simply, FUN. I love how in just one big breath I can make people jump out of their seats. That’s power. But it’s playful power. That’s the only kind of power I seek to have.
Being playful is often viewed as undignified, but without the joyfulness of our inner child, we can become too serious, too cynical. Without playfulness and joy, we can feel our hurts too deeply...and for too long. If we want happiness in life, we need to stay playful, or at least, to keep a sense of humor. Play and humor can alter the world around us. It can sustain us.
My cackle is a simple way I can break out of my shell, my serious, introverted self. It allows me to quickly embrace silliness and the beauty of human vulnerability. To do it takes great courage and most of the time, it makes people laugh. Contrary to its sadistic sound, it stirs up good energy and good energy is contagious. I read once that, “The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency in the world”. I wholeheartedly believe this. It’d be wonderful if we each reflected every day on the effect we have on others, to stir up good energy when we have the opportunity, but particularly in lives as busy as most of us lead, it’s easy to miss the opportunities for laughter, playfulness, and authentic human connection. But we can vow now to pay closer attention to how we affect others--to work harder to show up for those who need us, to listen more closely, to take time to laugh. We ought to make sure we’re laughing at ourselves too, for it’s good to stay humble.
Lest I be seen as naive, let me add that I KNOW life gets difficult. There are dark days when anxiety or trauma shows us how ROUGH it can get out there and in here and here. Pain is REAL and hardships for ALL of us do come--and not just once. Life is FULL of challenges--some small but sharp, some so big that you question how to take another step forward. Fear is also a player in life but it’s good to be reminded that we get to decide how much. That’s also within our power. We should also remember and be courageous to ask for help when we need it--and to surround ourselves with positive people who help us lead rich and meaningful lives. No man is an island, my Dad used to remind me. Know that you are stronger than you know. Don’t ever let fear turn you against yourself.
Some of you know that I’m in LOVE with a movie titled, “Hector and the Search for Happiness”. In the movie Hector asks an old monk: “You’ve been a fugitive. You’ve been in prison for your beliefs. You’ve lost family and loved ones. I mean, you’ve just been through so much. How is it you’re so happy?” The old monk replies: “Because I’ve been through so much”.
You see, we can live our lives believing the world OWES us...that people OWE us...that we are ENTITLED….OR...we can live our lives being grateful. The choice is ours. We’ll do better to accept that we will need to work for what we most want in life--whether that is more education, a particular career, a loving relationship or raising a happy family. Most of all, we must not wait for inspiration or motivation to work towards our dreams. I agree with the advice that, “it is better to cultivate discipline than to rely on motivation. We ought to force ourselves to do things, to practice, to work. Motivation is fleeting and it’s easy to rely upon because it requires no concentrated effort to get. Motivation comes to us, and we don’t have to chase after it. Discipline is reliable. The question isn’t how to keep ourselves motivated. It’s how to train ourselves to work without it”.
Parents--thank you for your tireless devotion and attention to these young people. Teachers and community members--thank you for your contributions to the education of this generation. Each person in this room has the power to serve this world in one way or another and these graduates are the evidence that you have done so already. Thank you students, parents, community members for giving me THIS opportunity to serve you and to learn from you.
These young people have taught me so much over the years. Most of all that each new day is another opportunity to be kind, to cultivate more compassion and forgiveness, to work to understand the point of view of those around me, to know that anger is the bodyguard of sadness and to realize that each new day is a chance to do good. And in doing these things, to be happy. The authenticity, the humor, the inspiration of these teens has sustained me during some of the most challenging years of my life. I am honored to have shared this Earth with you these past four years. Our work, our discussions, our PLAY--it’s all made me love life even MORE than I already did. Most of all, I feel BLESSED to have laughed with you--and to have loved you.
On the other side of these doors there is a world that is starving for new workers and dreamers--for new ideas, new leadership, fresh energy, big hearts, the most beautiful music. Don’t worry. You’ll come up with your style--your own way to live--and it’s okay to make mistakes--we all have a reset button. Don’t forget that. I ride mine constantly. Relax, dream up a good life--an AMAZING life--and then go and make it happen. Work towards your goals--let go of the misconception that there is only one way to make them come to pass because to think that way is ridiculous! The doors of opportunity keep relocating. When a door opens in life, walk through it. And if you’re at all afraid, conjure up a good cackle.
Are you ready? Yes. You’re ready. If there was ANYTHING in my speech that resonated with you, I invite you, no, I PLEAD with you to show me right now on the count of three. Take a deep breath and let out a big sound--call it a cackle, call it a YELP, call it a crow, call it a scream. It doesn’t matter. Just show the world that you are HERE and you are READY to walk through these doors. It’s a BEAUTIFUL day! Live life with joy and humor and gratitude! Don’t ever take it for granted!
Ready? On three. ONE, TWO, THREE……………(NOISE…... LAUGHTER......)
Once again, thank you so much. My love I give to you always.