1969 Commencement

Commencement Speech

Graduation Class of 1969

by Linda Brown


            “Students Riot at Columbia”, “Berkeley Students Demand Rights”, and even closer to home, “Westbury High School Students Picket School”.  As I recall the headlines of the past four years, these seem to stand out in my mind.  From Berkeley in 1964 to Columbia in 1969, student rebellion continues.   Spring Woods seniors, these headlines denote unrest among our generation.  When we leave here tonight, there are many of our classmates whom we will never see again.  Some we may read about on the front page headlines.


            Because of the dissatisfaction many of our generation are experiencing, we as graduating seniors have more responsibility than any other past generation.  The majority of us will be responsible for electing the next president of our country.  We will take part in the making of the laws and policies that determine our future as well as the future of others.


            There are many leaders today who are telling us we are headed for trouble because of the methods being used to achieve our goals.  But, I believe it is as Thomas Edison told Americans years ago, “Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.”  Now that our generation has established the desire to progress; let us think briefly of ways we can grow in order to accomplish our ideals.


            At this stage in our lives, with 12 years of achievement behind us, we are as an artist who begins a new painting.  We can now begin again with a clean, white canvas.  We will form the design, choose the colors and mix the paints.  The painting depends on our choices.  If we are to create a masterpiece, there are several virtues we must use daily.


            The first of these virtues is SELF-DISCIPLINE. Throughout high school, we have had very little opportunity or reason to discipline ourselves.  Either our parents or our teachers have been standing behind us telling us when to practice discipline.  As we leave these things behind, we will be our own disciplinarian.  Self -discipline means the ability to carry through with our ideas.  Emerson has said that, “good thoughts are no better than good dreams unless they can be executed.”  There have probably been several times in our lives that something new has come out on the market and we have thought to ourselves, “Why, I thought of that a long time ago...I wish I would have invented it.”  To often we are inclined to think of discipline as restrictive, when actually it is a freedom very few people enjoy.  Self-discipline gives us a chance to set our goals and then strive at our own pace to reach them.  If we are to benefit from discipline, it must come from within or it will be as William Feather said, “If we don't discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us.”  It is only through diligent work that we can obtain discipline in its best form.


            HONESTY is a second virtue that is needed for a successful life.  Honesty, first to ourselves, then to mankind.  Carlyle wrote, “Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world.”  Honesty in one person surely reflects the honesty in another.  James A. Farley told a graduating class many years ago, “The best advice I can give any young person upon graduation, can be summed up in eight words...be honest with yourself and tell the truth.”  This advice holds true for us.  We must face reality and admit our shortcomings.  Conceit and dishonesty will ruin our chances for a successful life.


            COURAGE is a virtue most of us have never needed.  It is a virtue with two sides...determination and fortitude.  To be courageous, we must have determination to carry through our ideas.  A great deal of talent is wasted everyday by men who do not have the courage to bring forth new ideas.  We must also have fortitude.  The test of courage is to keep standing after we have stood and been counted.  Courage is necessary if we are to achieve our goals as Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is only through labor and prayerful efforts by a grim energy and resolute courage that we move on to greater things.”


            We must also have FAITH.  Faith in mankind, God, and our country.  The faith in mankind will not be easy, because humans, as imperfect as we are, will disappoint us.  The faith in God is a necessity for through God all things are possible.  If God be for us, then who can stand against us?  The faith in our country will come only after we fulfill certain responsibilities.  A famous judge once wrote, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon courts and upon laws.  These are false hopes, believe me, these are false hopes.  Liberty lies within the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it.”  National pride is essential for our freedom.  We must be willing to fight for the preservation of our county.  Seniors, no longer can we excuse ourselves from responsibility.  Many of the boys in our class will be the ones fighting in Vietnam and Korea.  Let us not be among the draft card burners and the rioters.  Let us take a positive approach.  We must remember that the draft card represents the birth right of all citizens to fight for this country. Voting is more orderly and in the long run more successful than rioting in being heard.  We should not remember this privilege too late, as did this young soldier.  In a letter to his father just before his death, he revealed his many doubts.  He saw that everywhere Americans held suspicion, contempt, and prejudice against his fellow man.  But during the fighting he became impressed with the courage and valor of his buddy of another color.  He told his father how he saw his buddy shot in the head and how he had come to the realization that this boy was just as American as the white lieutenant leading the squad.  As adults, we must realize our country owes us nothing.  We must be willing to roll up our sleeves, take plow in hand and continue the work our forefathers only began. 


            Another essential virtue is THE ABILITY TO LEARN AND BENEFIT FROM EXPERIENCE.  As we look back on our years of high school many things come to mind.  We can remember our first date, our first research paper, our first misconduct slip and our first prom.  All these things were vital parts of our education whether or not they made a difference in our report cards.  We should take these experiences and learn from them.  Some of us here tonight have nearly perfect academic records in school. To them I issue the challenge to continue their excellence, but to never fear error.  To those who have not so perfect memories, you can learn from the experiences.  For it is sometimes necessary to collide with error if we are to perceive the truth.  It is not enough to have books, or to know where to read for the information we want.  Practical wisdom for the purpose of life must be carried about with us and ready for use at call.  Let us not be the ones that have a fund laid up at home, but have not a penny in our pocket.  We must carry about with us a store of the current coin of knowledge ready for exchange on all occasions or we will be helpless when the opportunity for action occurs.  The experience gathered from books is of the nature of wisdom; and a small store of wisdom is worth vastly more than any stock of book knowledge.  As we look ahead to the future, we should take this experience and perhaps improve our lives. 


            Throughout the past four years many people have influenced our lives.  Of course for better or worse, our parents have created us as we are.  To them we say thanks for giving us the opportunities they have.  Then there have been the teachers.  Some because of their love for their students and their enthusiasm for their subjects, have had a profound influence.  They have been a friend and have given us recognition and importance in a world where very little seems important.  To these teachers, we say thanks.  Then there are those individuals who have not been helpful and exemplary.  About them we must say to ourselves, “I hope never to posses the characteristic this person has that makes them unlikable.”  We must not hold a grudge, but learn from their mistakes.


            As we walk away from this stadium tonight with diploma in hand, we are telling the world we are ready.  We must be willing to respect tradition, but with the knowledge that the greatest triumph any tradition can accomplish is to rear noble and worthy rebels.  For it is through rebellion that improvement can take place.  We must realize that self-discipline, honesty, courage, faith and experience are necessary.  Above all we must not belittle ourselves.  We must realize that nations are renewed  from the bottom and not from the top. That it is the genius of the ranks of unknown men and women that contribute to the real wisdom of human life.  Some of our graduating class will never put anything into the world.  They will only expect the world to give them the things they need.  To them we say good luck, because that will be all they have to depend on.  For those of us who intend to put something into the world, let us be able to say at night when we lay down to sleep, “I have made one human being, at least, a little wiser, a little happier, or a little better this day.”