Hello graduates, faculty and parents. I am so honored to be here speaking today on behalf of Best Buddies. When Mr. Barbieri first asked me to speak, I will admit that I was a bit freaked out. When I think about a commencement speech, I think about elders sending the youth off with wise words. Now although I am legally an adult, I definitely do not view myself as an elder nor do I view myself as wise. In fact, we’re all in the same exact position- graduating high school and finally entering the “real world”. In all honesty, I’m probably more clueless than you all are. So as I was thinking about what to speak about, I realized that offering advice was not the best option. Instead, I’m going to share advice that you all have offered me.
After working with the LABBB program for a handful of years, I have learned far more from the students than they have learned from me. Even in the hip hop class that I taught the past two falls, I was frequently faced with the question, “Hey Juliet, how about instead, I show YOU a move and YOU do it?” From these agreements I’ve learned the “3-legged dog”, the “ultra jumping jack,” and Elvis’ REAL moves.
Working with you has left me with two major lessons. The first is the ability to create your own fun anywhere you go. I know this sounds dorky, but it is an invaluable skill that will follow you into adulthood. Earlier in the year before Best Buddies events, I would worry that buddies would finish the activity early and then be bored for the remainder of the time. But event, after event, after event, I was astounded by the ways that you would pass time. I never cease to be entertained by your creativity and spontaneity. When arts and crafts at Olympic Town became a bore, it was not unusual that I would see tae-kwon-do lessons take shape outside of the tent. I’ve seen a buddy pair play football in the quad of Lexington High School after eating lunch. I’ve seen a pair make a handshake while standing in line at the Special Olympics . . . and then show it to every single person that passed by. Even the fact that Best Buddies and LABBB dances are far more fun than any regular high school dance proves that your lively spirits are contagious.
When I first started teaching the hip-hop class for Wednesday Rec, we had a pretty fussy CD player. It would die in the middle of class or turn on and off sporadically. I used to bring in back-up speakers in case this happened, but one day I forgot to bring them. So, sure enough, the speakers turned off about ten minutes into class and we were stuck with no music for dancing. The main goal of the class, to learn different dance moves and create your own, was pretty hard to accomplish when there were no tunes to accompany the dancing. So I suggested, impulsively, that we play charades. I offered little guidance and basically just stood back and watched as the game played out. For the next 90 minutes, the students in my class played charades NONSTOP. I have never laughed so hard in my entire life. I saw the best impersonations of Hannah Montana, Darth Vader, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, every celebrity under the sun. If I remember correctly, there was even a scene from Gone with the Wind.
Your ability to create your own fun leaves you limitless. As you move into the next era of your life, you will be able to make mundane routines become exciting and entertaining. And that is honestly the best way to live.
The second lesson that you have all taught me is the power of companionship. This year I was able to see dozens of faces light up at the sight of an approaching buddy. Sometimes this lit face would be a LABBB buddy, but just as often, it was a high school student who was so excited to see his or her buddy and share a story for the weekend or grab lunch together. It is so exciting to see shy kids come out of their shell with their buddy, or to see students that you would never expect to join Best Buddies become active members and create lasting relationships. Creating a friendship with a LABBB student has transformed and enriched the lives of so many high school students. You will continue to enrich the lives of everyone you meet in the future and they will be so grateful. I am so grateful to have met all of you. You have largely shaped my time in high school, and I’m sure I’m not the only student that feels this way. My high school would be a very different place without the LABBB program.
To say that LABBB has had a positive impact on these public schools is a colossal understatement. Without Best Buddies, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed high school so much. I always tell people that I have the easiest job as Best Buddies President. Then they look at me and say, “Weren’t you just pulling your hair out and pouring over Excel Spreadsheets for 3 hours in the library just now?” And I’ll say yes, but the satisfaction of pulling off an event, or pairing two wonderful kids together is so huge, that the stress that may have occurred behind the scenes becomes totally insignificant. Plus, working with students and advisors to create these events is almost just as fun. But overall, what I am trying to get across is that I have loved every second of working with all of you, and that I will miss you all so much. You have inspired me more than you could ever know.
Congratulations, Class of 2011.