Monday, December 20, 2010

Hope & Despair: a Valedictorian Speech and a Commencement Address

Here is a video of a speech Erica Goldson gave at her Coxsackie-Athens High School (the best high school graduation speech ever given?). She was the valedictorian. The speech is uncommonly insightful for someone in her position but it also made me wonder when exactly she had these realizations -- obviously it's unfitting to have carried on as she did throughout high school knowing what she knows.

The recording starts a little after the speech has begun. The following text is what's missing from the video, with the line in bold noting where the video picks up.

"There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take me to find Zen?" The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years." The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast – How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student."

The speech can be read HERE.

In an interview given at a later date, Goldson mentioned how the thought of never having a "B" on her report card caused her to wonder why she cared so much about her grades and why she tried so hard in school. Unfortunately she left it at that, with no hint as to what her conclusion was. From what I've been able to gather from another video, it seems like most of her thoughts only began to crystallize once she sat down to write the speech. Determined to express something she truly felt rather than bull-shitting her way through a standard type of meaningless, cliche ridden valedictorian speech, her unformed feelings finally congealed into words and made their way into her notebook. (The cliche ridden model is the very type of speech she gave her principal to read over for approval.)

Though Goldson quotes John Taylor Gatto in the speech, I came to find out that she didn't even know who he was until her favorite teacher, Donna Bryan (whom she has remained close to since the tenth-grade), recommended him to her after reading her first draft. (Bryan, who Goldson mentions by name in the speech, has subsequently been removed from teaching tenth grade honors. Aside from that, however, it sounds as though she is doing quite well.)

* * *

The following video is a commencement speech Chris Hedges gave at Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois. It's from 2003, and history has shown Hedges' remarks to be spot on. That's the audience's problem, of course. Hedges is trying to drag their heads through the veil of feel-good fantasy that permeates American culture, and many of them simply aren't having it! (4 parts, 5 minutes each)

"Hedges' microphone was cut twice and two young men rushed the stage to try to prevent him from speaking. Hedges had to cut short his address and was escorted off campus by security officials before the ceremony was over. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal denounced Hedges for his anti-war stance on May 24. His employer, The New York Times, criticized his statements and issued him a written reprimand for "public remarks that could undermine public trust in the paper's impartiality." Shortly after the incident, Hedges left The New York Times..."

The patriots demonstrated all one needs to knows about how they truly feel about freedom of speech that day, and a certain prank by Sacha Baron Cohen immediately came to mind while I watched the whole fiasco unfold.

Many people have already seen the following video, but, for those who haven't, it relates to the Hedges video in that it shows how a certain American audience reacted when confronted with a performer whose content and ideas were truly ridiculous and reprehensible. But then again, it is a catchy tune!

The juxtaposition of the two events seems very appropriate to me: a truth-teller ridiculed and a prankster applauded.

"The masses have never thirsted after truth... Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim." --Gustave Le Bon

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Perhaps those rushing the stage merely wanted to ask Hedges what he thinks his punishment should be.