Cardozo High School Graduation 2008 - Valedictorian Speech

Uploaded by jscushman on 23.06.2008

On four continents and throughout the United States. His
college counselor, Ms. Kucker, described him as the most
genuine, benevolent, respectful, mature, optimistic, modest,
confident, and delightful young man she has had the
privilege to know in her years as an educator. Ms. Kucker, I
agree. It is with utmost pride that I present to you the
valedictorian of the class of 2008, Jeremy Cushman.

Good morning Mr. Hallman, Ms. Clark, Cardozo faculty,
family, friends, and my fellow graduates,
Four years ago, we were all faced with what seemed like the
biggest decisions of our lives- where to go for high school.
The options for us were many - there were the large
specialized schools, the small magnet schools, the private
schools, and the pull of the suburbs. And then there was
Cardozo. We all knew it had particularly strong programs in
science, math, law and dance, and some of the best sports
teams in the City. But it was so big! We wondered if anyone
would notice us there, whether we would be overwhelmed,
whether we would make friends, or get to know our teachers.
I now know that four years ago, you and I made the right
decision and we can all be proud to have the Cardozo name
on our graduation diploma. Now all that lies between us, the
graduates, and the top of the ladder, is, well, the ladder.
When I sat down to write this speech, I began to poke around
the internet for words of wisdom that would help us climb
that ladder. I found some really great quotes. I found an
inspirational one about optimism by Helen Keller, "No
pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to
an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human
spirit." I found one by Albert Einstein with great personal
appeal. He said, "A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin;
what else does a man need to be happy?" Nice quote - but
nothing to do with graduation. And I found a funny one by
the comedian Robert Orben. He said "A graduation
ceremony is an event where the commencement speaker tells
thousands of students dressed in identical caps and gowns
that 'individuality' is the key to success." They're all great
quotes but I was looking for something different. And then I
found something fascinatingÉ
In 1953, researchers surveyed Yale's graduating seniors to
determine how many of them had specific, written goals for
their future. The answer: 3%. Twenty years later, researchers
polled the surviving members of the Class of 1953 - and
found that the 3% with goals had accumulated more personal
financial wealth than the other 97% of the class combined!
This story is a graduation speaker's dream. It's compelling
and conveys an important message. We must always have
goals. Writing down these goals and making them as specific
as possible helps us achieve them. But the more I thought
about it, the more bothered I became. First of all, the story
seemed too incredible to be true. And, as it turns out, that's
because it isn't true. Despite its popularity on the internet,
there is no proof that such a study was ever conducted, and
even if it had been, it is highly unlikely that such extreme
results would have been obtained. So, as it turns out, there is
another, probably more important lesson, in the story, a
lesson many of us learned during our years at Cardozo. That
lesson is to never just trust anything blindly, without looking
further and questioning it. The internet in particular is an
amazing source of information but only if read with a critical
and questioning eye. I imagine that thinking critically
about the information you receive and challenging ideas that
don't seem quite right, is probably a greater key to success
than simply having goals.
The second thing that bothered me about the story is that it
measured the success of the Yale Class of 1953 based on the
financial wealth it had amassed. Nobody had bothered to
ask whether the members of the class had personal or
professional happiness. When I think of the people who
made the biggest difference in my life at Cardozo, it is clear
that those people chose a path to happiness and fulfillment
that had nothing to do with making money. I'll name just a
few examples of people who have impacted my life but I
know that everyone in this room has their own list. People
like Mr. Falco, my math teacher and math team coach, who
is brilliant and inspirational and an all around great guy.
People like Ms. Kucker, a really hard-working, resourceful
and gifted college advisor who goes above and beyond for
every student; and like Mr. Hallman, our principal who is
retiring this year and who has devoted years of his life to
making Cardozo the great school that it is.
I'd like to share one more familiar graduation story. A high
school principal met a graduate who had come back to school
for his twenty-fifth reunion. "I just wanted to take a second,"
said the graduate, "to thank you for the inspirational advice
you gave me at graduation 25 years ago!" "Why, thank you,"
replied the principal, who, of course, could not remember
what he had said. "But perhaps you could refresh my
memory. What did I say that inspired you so much?" At that,
the graduate looked earnestly at the Principal, and said, "I've
tried to live my life by these words: You gave me my diploma,
shook my hand and said, 'Keep moving. Keep moving!'"
Of course, it is important to keep moving in the sense that we
continue to grow intellectually, to actively pursue our dreams
and expand our world. Climbing up the rungs of that ladder
to success. But it's equally important to stop moving long
enough to appreciate what you have, to spend time with
those who are important to you, to lend a hand, and to just
say thank you. And certainly part of the purpose of today's
graduation is to stop and appreciate what we have, and to say
thank you to those who have gotten us to this day.
So to all the teachers and staff, thank you for choosing to
define the successes of your life by what you have been able
to impart to us, your students. You have taught us valuable
lessons that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
Thank you to our siblings for always being by our sides and
to all of our guests, who have each played a unique role in
our lives.
And to our parents and grandparents: the biggest thank you
of all. You have been there to support us since day one.
You've shuttled us to lessons, rehearsals and team practices,
helped us with our homework, ran out late at night for oak
tag and supplies, and motivated us to achieve more than we
ever thought we could. While we are going off to start the
next phase of our lives, we won't ever forget what you've
done for us and what you've taught us. One of the greatest
lessons I learned from my own parents and grandparents is
what I think of as the three Cs - caring, commitment and
confidence. In other words, find what you care about, devote
yourself to it, and believe in your ability to achieve it.
The events of this past month have been bittersweet as we
realize how much we leave behind and say good-bye to one
another. As we shared the prom, senior barbecue and the
many special events of the past month, we were extremely
aware that our time together was coming to an end. We will
never forget one another but we know that it's our time to
move on and meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Congratulations to the Class of 2008!