On June 7, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a young man stepped to the podium to address his 278 graduating high school classmates, his teachers, and administrators; he said in part:
“—-that diploma is more than just a piece of paper. It is a promise you made four years ago to yourself, your teachers, and the world around you to never stop learning, and to use the knowledge gained from your time here to inspire progress that our world needs more than ever.”
With heart-felt conviction, James Burger, my grandson and namesake, cued his classmates to be life-long learners to help make the world a better place. To have written, then spoken, those words in that setting suggests that James, at age 18, is already deeply concerned about his world and will certainly practice what he preached.
A year ago, James was elected senior class president, but it was not his position that gave him the privilege to urge his classmates to help “inspire progress” in their world. The privilege of being one of two student commencement speakers is a competitive process, open to all students, with the best two speeches selected by the teaching faculty.
As James spoke, I reflected back 50+ years to age 18 and my high school graduation. I certainly wasn’t thinking about making the world a better place. My most profound thoughts on graduation day had to do with the brand of beer my buddies and I were going to party with and which girls might show up to our post-graduation event. I wasn’t thinking about world peace or the human condition and probably didn’t know what I was doing the following week much less having a vision for the future. And the very last thing I would have contemplated at age 18 was to compete for the opportunity to address my classmates at graduation ceremonies.
But, growing up, James and I were motivated differently. James is a straight-A student and a voracious reader of current events and popular culture; pick most any topic and you are sure to have an interesting conversation. He sought out and won separate scholarships for exchange trips to France and Hungary that broadened his horizons. He has broad interests as shown by his Eagle Scout Award, by having won the Jefferson District Soil and Water Conservation Scholarship to help support college expenses, and by working as a waiter at a local restaurant. Most importantly he has supportive, loving parents with high expectations, and he was lucky to be a beneficiary of white privilege.
I will follow his progress with much interest as he begins his studies at the University of Virginia where he aspires to enter the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. I have a feeling that James and his classmates, along with other millennials now of voting age, will help us make better choices for our national and local leaders.
James went on with his speech——–
“Parents, grandparents, and teachers—yes, we are young and we are still learning—so thank you for your patience, but be reassured, we will one day achieve even greater things and solve the most difficult problems that face our world.”
Wow! Such optimistic resolve. But I believed what he said, and I believe that his generation will serve the country and the world better than mine—it must.
He concluded by coaxing his classmates:
“—-ground your feet and go forth with tolerance and pride in the adult you have become—-remember the triumph you feel this moment and whatever you do, remember your promise.”
How could I not be proud of this young man?
See more photos of James’ high school graduation: