WEST AMWELL: Emma Carpenter’s graduation address

A pep talk of sorts

   As I began writing this speech, I realized I wasn’t truly in any place to be giving a lot of advice. I might get the highest grades at this particular school in this particular year, but all things considered, we’re really in the same boat — all about 18 years old with some 13-odd years of state-issued learning under our belts, so I doubt if there’s anything important I can tell you that you don’t already know or haven’t already been told. Instead of imparting much wisdom tonight, I’d rather give you a pep talk of sorts, because you’re about to become a genuine player in this game called life, and you never know when you might need a few friendly words of encouragement.
   I know Mr. Pedersen has been telling us this all year, but I just want to tell you again for the benefit of those who might not have been paying attention. This is one of those few special moments in time where the past is suspended. In a few months, your family will drop you off on a strange sidewalk or in a strange room, with strange buildings and strange people, and after your family drives away, you’ll have to take one step — completely alone and unprotected for the first time. It might feel a little bit frightening, but it will also feel a whole lot like freedom. For the first time, you are exactly what you say you are because there are no previous interactions to say otherwise. This is your chance to become who you’ve always wanted to be and pursue your own dreams, not your parents’, not your friends’ — yours. As much as it hurts to say goodbye to our beloved home, we’re going to love saying hello. As the so-called “Me Me Me” generation, I will admit we have been coddled in our childhood, but that doesn’t mean we can’t stand up to adversity. There will be bumps along the way, I guarantee it, so I just want to tell you that it’s OK if you lose or fail, it’s OK to admit that you didn’t turn into the person you wanted to be five years ago, but it’s not OK to give up.
   If your best-laid plans go awry, as they’re often said to do, I want you to build plans on top of your old plans. And, as the case will probably be, build more plans on top of these, and keep building up. I want you to innovate and extrapolate on your plans until you’ve built a veritable labyrinth of plans that only you can navigate. I want failure and doubt to get lost in your plans. If you’ve run out of plans, make more of them, and if you can’t make any more, then take a breather.
   Despite what my lively imagery would have you believe, John Lennon assures us that life is in between the plans. Plans are good for the long term, but day-to-day you’re still just another set of eyes turned skyward. So, let ‘em wander once in a while. There’s a lot to see. Just don’t lose sight of the horizon line because that’s where the earth meets the sky. That’s where everything you do and everything you’ve touched comes in contact with the things you can’t reach yet. That’s where you built your hill of plans, which will, one day, become a mountain that you’ll stand on top of. Why, you’ll be able to reach right up and pluck your dreams out of the clouds. Then you’ll put new ones in, like changing a light bulb in the sky, like changing the light in your own personal lighthouse that guides your way through a sea of hardship towards a new dream.
   And if you ever think you’ve fallen from your leaning tower of plans, I want you to get up and start climbing or start over because you can be whatever you want, but if you think you want to be a quitter, then I will find you and I will give you a hug because you’d clearly need one. And if at any point you think you’re trapped absolutely at the bottom with no way up, drowning in the moat that surrounds your tower of plans (because, let’s face it, moats are cool) and you’re just so ready to give in, then phone a friend.
   Humans didn’t start working together so that, one day, they could live apart. Humans evolved to be communal because, according to Darwin, the environment selects the strongest individuals and it’s so much easier to be strong when you’ve got someone to lean on. I urge you to lean on each other, because there’s safety in numbers, because if there’s any upside to overpopulation, it’s that you never have to be alone.
   So, get ready to fight and be willing to help. Just go, and be completely amazing people. And if you’re not ready to say goodbye forever, then don’t. Say it like River Song told the Doctor to say it on the latest episode of Doctor Who. In layman’s terms: Say it like you’re going to come back.
   See you later, South Hunterdon. And as for the folks in the graduating class of 2013, I’ll catch y’all on the flipside.