A Townie Experience: The 2017 Laconia High School Commencement Speech

ˈtounē ˌikˈspirēəns – (compound noun) one’s witnessing locally the humble intersection of age, profession, and political persuasion, which evokes a latent appreciation for one’s hometown

As the 2017 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, I have traveled to school districts across our state—from the districts of our small towns to those of our big cities. While each school has its own culture, the palpable pride teachers, parents, and students exude for their communities is universal. Therefore, everyone should be able to appreciate the amazing opportunity afforded to me last week: delivering the Commencement Speech at the 2017 Graduation of my alma mater.

While preparing for the speech, I channeled the hometown pride of everyone across our state. Then, I spoke from the heart.

Here’s the story of my latest townie experience:

Beyond the bleachers of Laconia High School’s Jim Fitzgerald Field and through the evening’s shifting clouds, the sunlight stretches to reach the stage. Hundreds of local residents congregate slowly among the folding chairs and stadium seating. Parents and grandparents, who understand fully the magnitude of the moment, gird themselves emotionally: proud smiles are partly stifled and joyful tears, promptly dabbed. Whatever anticipation is irrepressible escapes as grateful laughter.

Then attendees are silenced by “Pomp and Circumstance;” their emotions suspended. Students march in cadence towards the next phase of their lives. And I review my Commencement Speech one more time.

I know it by heart.

I’ll begin by sharing the details of my former Spartan lifestyle—of when I was poor and couldn’t afford any furniture. And I’ll share the three relevant conclusions that I reached during that time—conclusions regarding Honesty, Happiness, and Love.

“The greater the distance between who you really are and who you think you are, the greater the chance you’ll make decisions you will regret, possibly, for the rest of your life,” I’ll tell them.

And about Happiness: “The more you look, the more you will find.”

But Love… The delivery of that final message is so important. I’m afraid that I might fumble it—

Then they announce my name.

And as I approach the podium, I sense the attention of everyone: parents, grandparents, friends, siblings, teachers, coaches, mentors—even city councilmen are in attendance. It doesn’t matter a person’s age, profession, or beliefs; high school graduation is the nexus of every community.

The Laconia Daily Sun ©2017 Karen Bobotas Photographer

And when I reached that final message, I let my heart do the talking:

“Graduates, never lose interest in other people.

So many of us exist as though our hearts have some maximum capacity.

But that’s not true. The real miracle of the human heart is that it can fit the whole world inside of it.

People think that if they love one thing, they have to hate its opposite. But that’s not true either—so, stop thinking that way! 

Sure, it may be impossible to love everyone you meet. But it is not impossible to find qualities to love in everyone you meet.

Live that way.

And if you can fit the whole crazy, screwed up world inside your heart—you will give back to life, what life has given to you: a chance.

Then, while leaving the stage, I can feel my own heart brimming with gratitude, because the compassion I encouraged was never mine originally. It came from my neighbors and coaches and teachers, who received it from their neighbors and coaches and teachers.

And just like that, I have passed the torch.

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What’s your townie experience? Share it with me—or better yet, send me an invite! And I’ll be sure to celebrate it in an upcoming blog post!

If you or someone you know would like to be profiled, then contact me at townies@stayworkplay.org. Let’s continue to celebrate our living New Hampshire!

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