The graduation speech that wasn’t

Monday, June 4, 2001

The text of the speech Joanna Li was prevented from giving, as reported by The Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise.

Six years ago my brother stood at this podium on this stage and spoke to his senior class. For the past few weeks I have searched his room and files for a copy of the speech he gave. But, he hid it pretty well and he won’t tell me where it is, so it looks like I’ll just have to make do and pray.

When we were born, there was no Internet. There wasn’t an email. There were no cloned sheep; there was no Viagra. We have witnessed the fall of the Berlin wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the scandal in the White House. We’ve survived Mrs. Abel’s tests, well, some of us have, and Mr. Goine’s jokes, and Mrs. Earney’s papers. The point is, we’ve seen a lot, experienced a lot. With that comes wisdom. Responsibility. Ah, those golden fruits of age.

Have you noticed that now that you’re graduating EVERYONE has advice to give you? Work hard. Don’t forget who you really are. Persevere. Remember your priorities. The truth is out there.
That’s all good and well, of course, but they seem to forget one important thing. HAVE FUN.

Burnout: know what it is? Allow me to elucidate. When I entered West Brook I loved to read. An English teacher’s dream. Wave a book in front of me and I would grab it, devouring every word, reading purely for pleasure. I loved to learn-I had wonderful teachers that saw the interest and fed it. Jo, the idealistic sponge, hungry for knowledge, knowledge, knowledge.

But my intentions changed. Grades became more important than learning. The pressure for a high GPA was so great that school felt like one giant pressure cooker. And then I learned my most important lesson, titled: WHAT I LEARNED AT WEST BROOK HIGH SCHOOL.

Wisdom comes when you can look at yourself and say hey, you, I know who you are. And success? Success comes when you can hold your head high on your own account, when you can walk down the street and talk to someone and not be afraid of what they might say to you.

I learned that while I wrote papers, read books, worked problems, and aced tests, I missed out on things — real things, new things, beautiful things — that now I’m scrambling to make up. How many hours might I have spent learning a new piece?

Learning to dance? Learning to act? This past year so many “lesser” things — the Calculus Quote Board, Senior Play, WORD UP, tennis tournaments — have made school worthwhile. And just imagine college: freedom!

I can make myself into who I want to be. I can do what I want. I’ve earned it.

And so have you. What do you say? Life is a gamble. Why not? Why not? As we leave this building tonight, well prepared by teachers and under the eye of God, the world awaits us. And with the guidance of God, and family, and our conscience, we’re ready to take it.

Bring it on!