Our lovely daughter Katelin graduated from High School today, finishing three spectacular years at Darrow School. She was Salutatorian for her class, and in that capacity, got to deliver an address at the Baccalaureate Service last night at the school. I thought she delivered a wonderful speech, and with her permission, I re-print her remarks below, proudly, humbly, gratefully, recognizing what a good kid we have, and what a blessed, fortunate life we live.
Salutatory Address, by Katelin Smith, June 5, 2009
When I was much younger, I would write and tell stories without a beginning, middle or end. Long, rambling lists of inconsequential details, with “THE END” tacked on when I felt like I’d gone on for long enough. I was always able to observe and record a lot of details that way without ever figuring out what they meant. Figuring out and explaining the meaning was always the hardest part, even after I learned how to give a story a beginning, middle and end.
Stories aren’t the only things that have beginnings, middles and ends. Decisions do too. Every decision starts somewhere, triggers a series of events in the middle, and then ends somewhere else. Sometimes decisions lead to greatness. Sometimes they lead to tragedy. But no matter what, they all move us forward, from the reason, to the act, to the consequence. So it goes.
Our time at Darrow had a beginning, and has a middle, and soon it will have an end. There are a million different ways I can look at this story to try to find its meaning. I can think of what I would have done, what I should have done, or what I did. I can think about what I did wrong or what I did right. I can compare who I was before to who I am right now, although that is always hard for me, because I tend to want to focus on who I will be tomorrow, especially now that the future, college and eventually being a “grown-up” seem to close.
Sometimes during my Darrow story, I wanted to be there at the end already. Just skip a few steps, and jump straight to tomorrow. It was always easiest to think that way when what was happening was difficult. But no matter how much time I spent thinking that, I was still writing that paper, taking that test, or doing whatever I didn’t want to do in the first place. Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting to see what the next chapter would bring. Ultimately, it was always worth the wait, and many times it was surprising how the story’s plot twisted in ways that I wouldn’t have appreciated had I just skipped to the end of the tale.
At times during my Darrow story, I didn’t even want to be in the present. I wanted to jump back and change an event that had already happened. Make a better choice, just to evade the consequences that I was dealing with at that current moment. But I know that’s a false approach to story-telling as well, as you can’t go back and erase an earlier chapter without changing everything that follows it, and you can’t put consequences in front of acts in front of reasons.
Fortunately, for most of my Darrow story, I was happy to be where I was, when I was. I was spending time with people who let me question everything. Who taught me lessons about Science and History and Music and Language and Art and Math and English that I will never forget. Who made me laugh so hard my stomach hurt. Who supported me in any way they could. And for all of that I am eternally grateful. And I am most grateful to the people who made it possible for me to come to Darrow, my family, who supported me throughout everything, no matter what.
To try to find deeper meaning in my story, I had to use someone else’s. In Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, there is a scene in which Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer, walks into a room full of important people, who he wishes to disgust and offend. He is covered in dirt and mud after a long journey to get there, and leaves tracks on the floor as he crosses the room. Vonnegut writes:
It was Trout’s fantasy that somebody would be outraged by the footprints. This would give him the opportunity to reply grandly, “What is it that offends you so? I am simply using man’s first printing press. You are reading a bold and universal headline which says: I am here, I am here, I am here.”
I believe that our story, our decisions and their consequences are all very similar to Trout’s footprints. What we decide, what we say, and what we do will define what we leave behind, and how people will read our stories. When the Class of 2009 graduates tomorrow, every action will say the same thing: We are here. We are here. We are here.