Sunday, May 23, 2010

Valedictorian Speeches

I appreciate the writing and the eloquence. They've found their own voices but not yet fully developed their own opinions - some of what they say is rehashed talking points - but it is nice to hear seniors who can speak well and are starting to accept the mantle of adulthood.

Read more:
from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
Metro Atlanta high school grads discuss their generation's top issues

It’s graduation season once again. Youthful optimism, energy and results born of hard-won achievement are each found in great measure at high school commencement exercises.

It is oft-repeated but in no way trite to note that Atlanta’s youth really do represent our future, as they come of age during a time freighted with both opportunity and risk for our region, state, nation and world.

We’ve written often in the past year about the bold leadership, ideas and innovation that are needed for Atlanta to keep moving ahead. The ranks of those leaders will no doubt one day soon include members of the class of 2010.

Given that inevitability, we invited a group of high school seniors to address what they believe are the main issues facing their generation.

The essays that resulted give us hope for a better future:

‘A shrinking incentive to work hard’
By Stephen Lago, valedictorian at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell

The biggest issue facing our generation is complacency: a growing attitude of indifference and a tendency to shirk responsibility by forcing it onto the shoulders of others.

On a grand scale, young adults tend to endorse politicians who support destructive national policies. On a more personal level, massive credit card debt among many American youth speaks to rising complacency. And the misguided ideal of achieving the greatest gain in exchange for the least amount of work has nearly eclipsed the once-vaunted belief in a strong work ethic.

This complacency springs from two underlying sources: a general sense of entitlement and a distorted sense of self-importance.

The sense of entitlement comes from five decades of politicians who have pandered to voters by promising unearned benefits paid for with money that does not exist. The result is a shrinking incentive to work hard and a growing national debt. Only by planning for the future and acting accordingly will we be able to avoid the inherent dangers in this present arrangement.

A prevalent belief now is that society should take care of each individual because every person is important. The truth is that each person is important because they can help society. It is through our works, achievements, innovations, and imagination that we are vindicated and our place in society is justified.

With hard work and perseverance, each generation has the potential to go farther than the one which preceded it. Many in the Google generation have rejected that notion in favor of minimalism and the expectation of instant results.

Fortunately, this growing sense of complacency is largely self-inflicted. By re-evaluating our present path and taking calculated measures on both the personal and national levels, we can fix it, but only if we act sooner rather than later.

‘Misuse of freedoms’ fetters us
By My Ngoc, valedictorian at Parkview High School in Gwinnett County

The next generation is growing up in a world in which technological advances have eradicated or minimized almost all problems of the past. People no longer live in fear of famine, disease, or severe destruction by natural disasters. Human progress is evident through increasing life expectancies and decreasing death rates all over the world. Though our survival is more ensured than ever, we risk losing our minds to the mass culture that has developed -- nothing sums up this phenomenon better than philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s words: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

We have always taken pride in our freedom of speech, but we forget to think about the quality of the words that come out; too often, they are only a regurgitation of ideas sprouting from the ever-expanding pool of mass media which, over an extended time, implants “pseudo-perceptions” inside our minds.

We live in a country founded upon the ideals of freedom, yet the misuse of our freedoms has in many ways chained us into a mental slavery.

The world today is very comfortable. And because the need to reform the world is no longer as great as it used to be, the next generation has become more focused on dominating the current system instead of pioneering a better one, as our forefathers did.

Greater freedom brings with it greater responsibility, and we must make sure that if we have our ability to speak freely, we must never, ever, lose our ability to think freely.

If American culture is centered on the individual, then why do we, knowing that conformity is a threat to our vitality, continue to live in such hypocrisy?

‘Actively breathe frugality’
By Jared Isenstein, salutatorian at Woodward Academy

The virtues of personal responsibility and hard work allowed America to become the most prosperous, generous and free nation on Earth, and it needs these qualities to continue to thrive. The excellence of this country firmly resides in its people’s character; a nation of immigrants who felt fortunate to have the opportunity to succeed.

Over the last decades, like mirror images of each other, the government and the public have overspent, borrowed, and used credit to purchase without regard to cost. We now buy things on credit for immediate satisfaction, rather than using layaway, which delays gratification but upholds fiscal responsibility.

The problem is systemic and both parts, private and governmental, must be fixed simultaneously for a lasting solution. It is incumbent on my generation to correct this irresponsibility and to actively breathe frugality and inject temperance into this country’s core.

The shortsightedness by the public, from buying homes with no money down, or buying a flat-screen TV worth a month’s paycheck, has already hurt our country. The price in diligence and sacrifice necessary to bring about achievement is increasingly seen as not worth its price. Americans may be forgetting that satisfaction is directly proportional to the effort expended in an endeavor.

It falls to today’s youth and young adults to succeed where our parents stumbled. Delayed gratification is my generation’s most pressing virtue.

Americans cannot continue to take the easy, temporary solution to the spending predicament. We must sooner or later come to terms with an increasingly painful dose of spending cuts or suffer potentially dire consequences.

I look to my fellow youth to join me in striving for personal responsibility and self-reliance, as difficult as these virtues may seem.

‘Mediocrity has become the norm’
By Orane Douglas, salutatorian at Atlanta’s New Schools at Carver

Apathy is rampant among many young people today. Students are often not willing to work hard to attain success. Mediocrity has become the norm for many of my generation. Many students feel success is owed to them and that it is society’s role to provide it. This false belief has led to complacency.

This apathy can be addressed by schools. If students are given the opportunity to learn in an environment where they are challenged, they will aim higher. Supportive teachers and dedicated administrators help foster a positive environment . My experience in a small learning community has taught me to overcome mediocrity. I have been challenged and supported academically by my teachers. Providing additional help whenever needed, they make themselves readily available to students so that they can be better prepared for college.

As a child of a single parent, I have my mother as a guide . Her sacrifices and values have served as a positive beacon. While I could have easily become a statistic, her example directed me away from negative influences. Others, who have not had the guidance I have had, may not have felt as compelled to succeed . Some young people feel they can do just enough to get by and still be successful. Many don’t see the importance of education, and thus don’t make it a priority.

These issues are the responsibility of the entire community. Teens are constantly bombarded by images of greed and selfishness. More positive role models are needed . There are many positive leaders in the Atlanta community, but they aren’t as obvious to students as the negative figures.

It is incumbent upon all of us to do our part and change the present to better the future.

‘We should care about others’
By Allison Boden, salutatorian at Lakeside High School in DeKalb County

When picking up a newspaper, turning on the television or reading an article on the internet, it is easy to discover issues that affect all of us. It’s also easy to ignore those that apparently do not directly affect us.

What prompts us to respond? When does it matter to us? When should we care? What is the most important issue? Is it terrorism, healthcare, the lack of jobs, immigration, the stability of the economy, or environmental pollution? My answer is -- all of the above.

An overarching theme that relates these problems is a general lack of concern for the welfare of others. Our society is so competitive and materialistic that most people focus on themselves and no one else. Does everyone deserve health care? Why does it matter if other people are out of a job when mine is stable? How do the deaths of people across the globe affect me? What’s the matter with polluting the earth and destroying the habitats of animals when I won’t be alive to see the effects?

My answer is: because we should care about others. If each of us would take more individual responsibility and accountability for our actions and treated others the way we want to be treated, finding solutions to many issues would be simplified.

We should care how our actions affect ourselves and future generations. We should care about the plants and animal species becoming extinct and endangered every day. And we should care about the thousands of innocent lives being lost because of disputes over land, oil, or religion. However, the fact is that our society today does not care enough, and that is the biggest issue of them all.

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