August 2000

This is the speech I gave at my Middle School graduation. It's now word for word the way I said it, because I didn't read it, but it pretty much is the way it came out. The last part changed some because I made it more upbeat on my last couple of practice tries.

Staff, parents, my good friends, mom and dad, and 8th grade class of 2000...THE CLASS OF 2004!

What a great night. We heard great speeches from Mr. Z (I heard it's the 10th time he's given the same speech. so I guess we never change. we all have to meet the challenges of our changing lives). Melissa did such a great job of thanking everybody here at school for what they did, I don't have to add a lot Just thank you all. This was a great place to spend 3 years of school. Mike talked about using everything we have inside us and taking advantage of our opportunities. How all of us have inside us and outside us what it takes to succeed.

I want to thank my student council for their great job. Nick, who kind of became vice president through the back door made sure I didn't get carried too far away with my wild ideas. Melissa, the 8th grade president, saw that there were different ideas than just the ones I had. And Travis, who took a lot of my ideas and presented them so nicely to everybody. And for next year, I could tell from the things he did as 7th grade president, that Darryl will make a great ASB president next year.

I'm going to talk about bacteria. Like the kind in Mr. P's science experiments where we put the agar in the petri dish. Then we put all kinds of stuff in it. I rubbed my pencil in it, rubbed a coin in it, put a piece of carrot skin in. Then we all waited to see what would grow in the petri dish. All of us had all kinds of interesting bacteria growing. We had lots of different kinds and colors of colonies. I kept wondering if any of mine would escape and take over the school. I could see the newspaper headline, Escaped Bacteria Threaten Middle School. Science experiment goes out of control. Well, nothing happened except colonies growing.

But the big thing we saw was that there were so many different bacteria. They were all bacteria but they looked different. Each colony was different. None of us was really sure what was going to happen in our petri dishes. When I told my dad about it he said that it sounds a lot like having a kid. That they all come out different, they all grow, and some of them go out of control.

I wonder if the bacteria know they're different. One kind never seemed to mix with the other. I know about us. We all know about differences. We have boys and girls, we have african americans, and asians, and caucasians, and native americans, and kids of lots of different religions. We are in class together, we eat together, we play sports and games together, and lots of us have good friends who are different. So it would look like most of us here know about differences and accept them.

But sometimes there are differences we haven't accepted. And by we, I mean me too. Maybe one of the biggest things we have to figure out in high school is how to accept differences we don't agree with. I'm going to give you one example. Some of us were involved in this and some of us weren't.

Last year in 7th grade there was a boy who had a problem. He wasn't always clean. Sometimes he smelled and had to be sent home to wash. He was super smart and let everybody else know how smart he was and how dumb he was. He hid inside of his books and nobody could make friends with him. He told everybody he was gay and that make lots of us dislike him even more.

He got picked on and harassed. He got called names. We could all accept lots of differences in our classmates. But somehow we couldn't accept somebody who acted like he wanted to be different. It was like outside differences were okay, because we got taught that way, but inside differences just meant somebody was weird, so it's okay to be mean to him.

We all know he took an overdose of pills and got lucky and lived. But even after that not many of us talked to him. What all of us didn't know was that in 5th grade his best friend accidentally killed himself with a gun right in front of him. At the end of the school year he applied to private school and got a scholarship. Here is what happened to that little dirty boy who is gay and who nobody wanted to try to like.

He got straight A's. He came to school clean and fresh every day. He made two great friends who helped him make more friends. One of his friends was a big school jock. I found out that because he had friends who accepted him being different he got confidence and made more friends. He was accepted for being smart and for having a quick smile, something we never saw here. Of course he hasn't told the whole school he is gay, but a lot of them know. It didn't make any difference I guess, because he was elected the Freshman class secretary/treasurer.

So what does this all mean? Why bring up one kid who had problems, when so many of us accept so many differences? Because most of us sat back and did nothing when people were picking on him. We figured as long as we weren't doing the picking on it was okay. Only a couple of people spoke up for him or talked to him. It was okay if he got called names because he acted different. Because he was too smart. And he was dirty. And sometimes he cried. And because he said he was gay. All of that made it okay to ignore him and treat him like a nobody.

So how is it he makes it in one school and not in another one? Maybe he is a lesson on how we all have to look inside and see how we treat people. All people. Our teachers keep telling us how important it is to accept differences. How it makes us better as people. Maybe when we go to high school, one of the things we need to do is look inside ourselves. Maybe the next time we see a lost person we remember what happened when we were in 7th grade. That maybe the problems that person was having was as much how people were treating him and accepting him as it was what was inside him. Sometimes kindness can work miracles.

Like the bacteria in the petri dish all of us are different. It's the differences that make us who we are. That make us human. We need to see those differences as the things that make us awesome. That make us each special. We need to see how these differences can make us closer to people, not how they move us apart. Mike told us how we need to reach our potential. Part of reaching it is being the best person we can be inside. It's something all of us can and will do. It's all part of our challenge of growing up. Go Class of 2004!

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