I graduated from Childersburg High School in Childersburg, AL, on May 22, 2014, at 7 pm. As the salutatorian of my graduating class, I was given the honor of delivering a commencement address at my graduation ceremony. The speech, available below, contains two pieces of advice from my favorite book series, "Harry Potter," that I wanted to share with my graduating class.
Welcome to the commencement exercises for Childersburg High School's graduating class of 2014. First, I would like to thank the teacher who shot me down when several friends and I petitioned for an outdoor graduation this year. Until the baccalaureate service this past Sunday, I had no idea how miserably hot graduation getup can be. Today, I am thankful to have been educated by people who know the value of air conditioning.
I want to thank the families here tonight for helping us through one of the most difficult human conditions that has ever existed: senioritis. We know. We've been a pain, and we've grated on literally every single one of your nerves. Fortunately, your ears will finally get some relief... but by this August, many of your pocketbooks will have the opposite of relief, as a large portion of this class follows their path to college. I'd like to go ahead and thank all the families here for the support that they've not only already expressed, but also for the support that I know will come in the future. We are all grateful for you.
Before I talk about Harry Potter -- and yes, I will be talking about Harry Potter -- I want to thank our teachers and school faculty members. Thank you for choosing us as your career. Thank you for putting aside your concern for money and recognizing your concern for making a difference. We are also grateful for you.
Now, as promised, I want to speak about Harry Potter, who has taught me more lessons in my 18 years than I can relay, from the value of reading to the value of friendship. I am forever indebted to Mr. Harry Potter, and I feel that one of the best ways to repay him for his service to my life is to share with my classmates some of the advice he has given me.
The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997, a year after I was born. I got my first pair of glasses at the age of four -- the year 2000 -- at which point people had already started telling me of my resemblance to Harry. When I was in the second grade, I finally began reading the series. Almost instantaneously, I made a connection with my doppelgänger, and he earned a permanent place in my life -- not just as a piece of literature, but as a friend.
When I was in elementary school, Harry taught me that sometimes the most fascinating people are the most misunderstood. In middle school, Harry taught me that the quality of friends matters much more than the quantity of friends. When I was in high school, Harry taught me to value my parents. He taught me the importance of leadership, and he taught me to respect the lessons that I could learn from all the adults in my life. Today, I still hold Harry very dear, and I know that I am who I am today because I read those seven books time and time again. As I grew up with Harry and he grew up with me, he taught me many lessons -- but there are two lessons I learned from Harry that I want to share with my classmates tonight.
Harry Potter taught me that I should never stop trying just because something is difficult. If you've ever watched the Potter movies or read the books, you know that the antagonist, Lord Voldemort, attempted to construct a genocide of every witch or wizard who wasn't born of the purest magical blood. Voldemort tried to destroy anyone with magical powers who didn't come from a family of ancient magic, and the only person who stood in the way of his conquering of the magical race was Harry Potter, who knew that all wizards were created equally, whether by parents from ancient wizarding families or by parents that were just normal people, people who couldn't do any kind of magic, known as Muggles in the Potter world. In a way, Harry was like the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., of the wizard rights movement. And like Dr. King, Harry didn't stop fighting for wizard rights just because it was difficult. Harry didn't even stop when the entire wizarding world believed that Voldemort was right that magic should be reserved for people with only the purest families.
Most of us will not become leaders of massive civil rights movements -- although there are plenty of movements that need great leaders -- however, we are already the leaders of our lives. I urge all my classmates to steer themselves in the direction that they know is right. I urge you to ignore anyone who tells you that the motive you hold so dear, the purpose behind your actions, is wrong or unimportant. When Lupita Nyong'o received her first Oscar at the Academy Awards this year, she said, "No matter where you're from, your dreams are valid." In the same way, your actions are valid when you know that you are doing the right thing for yourself. If you stand alone, continue to be courageous. Have faith in yourself, and have faith in your actions. Stand strong, in the same way that Harry Potter stood strong against Lord Voldemort. Do not give up because failure seems inevitable. Expect what seems unexpectable, believe in yourself and create your own path to success. Always stand up for what is right for yourself and for what you know is right for the world around you.
The second lesson I want to share with you is one I hope you will remember forever. I learned this lesson from Harry Potter as well, but it may be different for each of us here: find your escape. I expect every single person here to stand strong for themselves and the world around them -- but I know that in the midst of strength, we will one day grow weary. Strength is a powerful trait, but, unfortunately, it is often unsustainable. Your strength will one day reach a point at which it breaks or falters. When this happens, I want you to remember this: go to your escape place and recharge.
Of course, there are many different escapes that are available. You may find your escape in a movie night with your best friends to see Jennifer Lawrence's next movie. You may find your escape in a pick-up game of baseball, softball or football with the people you played sports with in high school. You may find your escape in really long naps. My escape is my seven favorite books and the world they have introduced me to. If you don't know what your escape is right now, I hope that you will discover it soon.
The world is a scary place that, fortunately, many of us have not had to deal with in its entirety just yet. There are bills, children, husbands, wives, jobs, college degrees, responsibilities and -- perhaps the scariest of all -- dirty dishes... all waiting on us, hoping that we exhaust all our energy in combatting each individual one. For your own personal sanitation, I suggest you avoid ever trying to escape dirty dishes; but if you ever need to escape from any of the other things I mentioned, it will be enormously helpful for you to know just the right way for you to escape from the world for a short time. And if you haven't found an escape just yet, I know that my friend Harry Potter is always willing to help you recharge.
At this point, most of us are anxiously awaiting walking across the stage and receiving our diplomas. Before I have the privilege of doing the same, I would like to congratulate us all and say that I am proud of each of us. I wish everyone the power to believe in yourself and the self-awareness it takes to know when you need an escape. I wish many blessings on each of the members of the class of 2014.