Life Story Graduation Speech Posted May 14, 2020

My graduating high school class never had their ten year reunion.

Everything seemed to go up in flames overnight. Nobody could agree on where or when to meet, which in turn led to quite a few insults being thrown around. For years, I hoped we would all come around and talk things over — you know, like grown ups. Of course this was a big deal to me. My generation has been conditioned to believe anything was possible. We are all pioneers of the social media age. This reunion HAD to happen.

But that was just the denial stage of grief lingering. There's no talk of a ten year reunion, anymore. Nobody is saying anything about fifteen or twenty-plus year reunion, either. As far as I can tell, our dedicated Facebook group no longer even exists. Where the world once opened up for me, certain avenues have already begun to shutter. It's jarring — devastating, perhaps — when you realize you can never do or revisit a certain thing again... like play sports, or go to school, or kiss your now ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. The first things you lose are usually the hardest. I think that’s why so many people try to relive their glory years in whatever form those years happened to take on; They’re not over the loss. But I can't even do that now, nor can I do the following things anymore:

1. Draw
Surely you've seen some of my doodles by now. I used to do that stuff religiously. I had editorial cartoons and comic strips featured in my high school newspaper for nearly all four years. But arthritis has officially caught up with me, and I haven’t been able to draw much since then. I can't even type this on my phone without my hands locking up. But art exists in many forms, and I've been able to channel my talents in other areas... like this website!

2. Go to youth camp
There are designated adult summer camps now, complete with outdoor activities, ptomaine poisoning, and oddly stained bunkbeds. But nothing can recreate that feeling of interacting with the world on your own terms for the first time. I once went to spring retreat with a church, with no parents around to tell me to do chores or yell at me if I didn't eat my dinner. After the lights went off, me and a few others snuck back to the dying campfire — where we did some hookah, talked about anything and everything, and did some crazy things out on the lake nearby. Sure, the aforementioned adult camping experiences are exclusively about these kind of moments, but it just wouldn't be the same. It shouldn’t be the same.

3. Pull all-nighters
I used to be able to power through the day, stay up all night, get an hour of asleep, and repeat the process all over again. Nowadays, I need my afternoon nap to have any hope in making it past 7:45pm. It's pathetic. The effects of caffeine are lost on me, and my energy reserves are shot. I am absolutely going to die once I have children.

4. Play in a marching band
This isn’t a terribly dramatic proclamation, given that I was a horrendous musician and wasn't even allowed to march pregame back when I was in college. In theory, I could strap on a uniform one last time and volunteer for the Baltimore Marching Ravens or something. But my neck and spine are essentially made out of wet oyster crackers at this point, and I'm still paying off my sins from having a steady diet of Papa John's. It would only end in obscene levels of pain.

5. Go back to high school
I would redo my high school years in a heartbeat. My mother insisted that me and my sister would transfer to Cuyahoga Falls, but I refused. I felt like I was flourishing and having the time of my life in Barberton. But I didn't exactly come out prepared for the real world. I had issues getting accepted into the University of Akron, and they accept EVERYONE. Following that was a long and brutal road riddled with depression, joblessness, and homelessness. I'm living more comfortably now, but I wonder how much trouble I would have avoided and how better off I might have been if I had just taken my mother's advice.

I would also take school much more seriously. If I had a time travel machine, I would go back and punch my younger self in the face for all the times I procrastinated until the last possible moment.

6. Apologize to certain people
Even if my high school reunion were to happen, it would be a bittersweet affair. I had many people like me for my goofy antics, but I'm not who I was or who I ever aspired to be. I suppose I could embrace the few people who didn't like me, or at least apologize for all the things I had done wrong. But that's not always an option.

My best friend back in high school was like the brother I never had. We played games, watched movies, and talked about everything. He taught me all there was to know about graphic design and digital media, and for that I'm eternally thankful. We continued to be great buds through college and beyond. But then he stopped talking to me, for reasons I may never know. There was no warning. No tension. No replies. Nothing. I would think there would be too many years built into memories to just up and leave like that, but that's life I guess. Sometimes you just lose people. Sometimes you lose people that you really care about, and you never see them again. And the worst part is... you never get the chance to apologize for letting them down.

7. See my parents and grandparents alive
All my parents and grandparents are gone now. I had a good relationship with them, but I can’t say I really knew them. I've always pictured them as authoritative figures in which I had listen to and abide by their rules... OR ELSE!!

But most of them passed away before my life really began to change, and that's when I wanted to hear their advice and life experiences the most. I looked forward to the day when I could resolve some of their issues and even teach them a thing or two. I looked forward to hearing all those "wait until you're older" stories while knocking back a few cold brews.

I digress. They all helped shape me into the person I would become, and they all thought of me more than they thought of themselves. While I’m still here on Earth, I have to appreciate the time I had with them rather than anguish over the time I must now spend without them. And I think that's the point I'm trying to drive home. For all you kids graduating out there, embrace those possibilities while they're still yours to hold. There are things I can never do again, and there are things that you will one day never do again. But that doesn't mean those things end. Because all of your accomplishments and triumphs will live on, not simply in your own memories but in the memories of many others. To be able to look back and see all the difference you've made and the impact it will have for generations to come — that is no small consolation prize.

Make every day count for all of eternity.