Happy Tuesday #Jontourage,
Welcome back to the “Classy Gent Chronicles”, where staying classy is the only way to be. Let's jump right into it....
So nine years ago, I graduated from high school. I had the honor of being Valedictorian (the graduate with the highest grade point average over the course of the time in high school). The term “valedictorian” comes from the expression “vale dicere” or "to say farewell". I remember my principal Dr. Ryans, calling me into his office over the loudspeaker. I thought I was suspended even though I was a good kid only to be told I was valedictorian of Friendly High School’s class of 2008. I was overfilled with pride, joy and emotion. I called my mom to tell her and she didn’t even believe me. How rude! She thought it was some sick practical joke. I said “mom why would I call you at 9:30 in the morning to be lying while I am supposed to be in class?” When it finally hit her, she just broke down crying. She was so proud. Being Valedictorian was cool for three main reasons:
1. I got to sit on stage with all the higher ups from my county
2. I got to put that I was a valedictorian on my resume (it’s still there nine years later)
3. I got to give a speech
When writing my speech, I wanted to go for the comical-impactful combination. I believe that is the best way to captivate any audience. What I did not realize was that my speech was more a premonition than anything of my future. At the bottom of this blog is my actual speech nine years ago but I will point out some key sentences from my speech that later occurred in life.
Case #1- “One thing I learned from high school is do not take the safe route. The safe route is nothing but the route that looks nice at first but someone stopped paving, and it turned into a rocky, bumpy road. Take the challenging route, the route that appears hard, but as you continue to ride down it, it becomes smooth sailing.” – After college, I ended up moving to the state of Pennsylvania, not really knowing anyone and shifting careers from Statistics to go into Higher Education. Although scary at first and a huge learning curve, I have managed to get high scores on my performance evaluations every year and even earned the Residence Hall Coordinator of the Year Award last year.
Case #2- “I would like to say thank you to my mom for always going beyond what any mother should do for their child.” - My mom stayed up with me every night for almost two months to help me edit my first book “Master of Ceremonies: A Male’s Guide for a Successful Life” and planned me the world’s best book launch party.
Case #3- “When moving toward your dreams, stay positive and don’t take rejection personally because it happens to everybody. Remember that every “No” is one step closer to a “Yes”. Keep pushing.”- Who would have thought I would have went on to write a book? No one including me. The amount of trials and tribulations that go into being an author are like no other.
Moral of the story: A cool throwback memory. Some days I see this and I ask God "why me?" There were others just as deserving. Today, I now realize He needed me in a leadership capacity to inspire others that hard work pays off and to stay focused despite the temptation around us. I had all the tools all along, I just had to believe in myself.
Remember, in order to live out your dreams, you have to think it, feel it, live it! Until next time, stay classy...
Oh yea before I forget. Without any further ado… here is my valedictorian speech
Valedictorian Speech – Friendly High School Graduation
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Good afternoon to all administrators, teachers, staff, friends and family, and especially to the Friendly High School graduating class of 2008!! Today, we are here to celebrate a new beginning in our lives. A lot of people see graduation as something so easy to do, but when we look at the increasing drop-out rates across the country, graduation is a very proud accomplishment.
We now have some decisions to make about our lives. Where will we go? What will we do? How will we live? All of this depends on the decisions we make. We should not limit ourselves, we should dream big and move toward our goals with a positive attitude. What will get us there is hard work and commitment. We have to decide to do our best. We have to continue to make the right decisions, even when it is not easy. The fact that we are sitting here today, means that we have already made some good decisions.
One thing I learned from high school is do not take the safe route. The safe route is nothing but the route that looks nice at first but someone stopped paving, and it turned into a rocky, bumpy road. Take the challenging route, the route that appears hard, but as you continue to ride down it, it becomes smooth sailing. What you put in is what you get out. I worked very hard not because I liked school, but because I wanted the have the most options available when I graduated. There will always be moments where you will want to throw in the towel because as we have all heard, “Life ain’t no crystal stair”. If you have ever had the privilege of hearing Ms. Dupas’ poem “45 Minutes” she says, “I won’t cop out, and even on my tired days, I don’t opt out - I find a way to give even when I’m empty.” To be successful you have to work through all temptations and struggles.
I believe that the Friendly High School Class of 2008 will be the class that changes the troubled times we live in. We need a big change and we need it now. It seems that youth violence is all we hear about, especially pertaining to young African-American males. But all hope is not lost, look on stage, today’s valedictorian and salutatorian are young African-American males. I challenge each one of us to help put an end to youth violence by making the right decisions. Our community is looking to us to turn it around, so let’s make the commitment to make it a priority our lives.
As you make your way into the next chapter of your life, remember to thank those who helped you along the way. Most importantly, thank God for keeping us safe and sane, in what sometimes seems to be an insane world. Thank your family - your mom, dad, grandparents and other family members for the hours they spent getting you where you are. Thank them for the encouragement that kept you going. Thank them for the rides they gave you and your friends, and running out to the store at night to get what you needed for school the next morning. My granddad would come all the way across town to pick me up and take me wherever I needed to go, whenever I needed to get there. I would like to say thank you to my mom for always going beyond what any mother should do for their child. I would like to thank my dad for always encouraging me to do my absolute best. I would like to thank my brother for being there when mom and dad just were not getting it, and I needed someone to talk to.
Remember to thank your teachers who worked on the front lines of combat. They all deserve gold medals for putting up with us. Let’s thank them for the days they gave us an extra day for our projects, or when we had a 69, or 79 and they gave us that extra point we needed. Thank teachers who did not show favoritism and challenged us to do better. To all of our teachers, you influenced our lives in ways you can’t imagine.
We have to thank our administrators for constantly caring and being in our corner. Be happy you got lunch detention, as compared to the 10-day suspension you were supposed to get. And let’s thank Mr. Ryans for those incremental go to class warnings. Seriously though, Mr. Ryans and Ms. Jeffrey, you have been our greatest supporters. Thank you.
Say thank you to all of your activity sponsors and advisors. When you wanted to start a poetry club, an international culture society, or a basketball team, a staff member at Friendly had to sponsor it. If every teacher left at 2:25 immediately after school, none of us would have been involved in any activities. I would like to give a very special thank you to Mrs. White for being so dedicated. Ms. Strickland, thank for all the time and energy you gave to Mock Trial. And Ms. Owens… thanks for the great trip to Spain last year.
To the guidance counselors and class sponsors… thank you for pointing us in the right direction when we didn’t know which way to turn. Ms. Dent, Ms. Richardson, Ms. DuBose and Ms. Folsom – thank you. To all other staff members, we appreciate everything you did.
And finally, be sure to thank your friends for always being there for the crazy moments like when you put on mismatch shoes, or when you didn’t hear jerseys were out of style, or when you didn’t hear tomorrow was a uniform-free day and you were the only person who came to school in your uniform. When everybody else laughs, true friends will always be in your corner. I would like to say thanks to my friends, Alphonso, Nicketa, Jeremy, Bianca and Mark, for always sticking by me during my best and worst times.
As you go on in life remember these tips:
Ø Guard your reputation like your shadow because it follows you wherever you go. Hopefully you left a good impression. If not, it’s never too late.
Ø When moving toward your dreams, stay positive and don’t take rejection personally because it happens to everybody. Remember that every “No” is one step closer to a “Yes”. Keep pushing.
Ø Remember that you cannot always be right, and that you are never above giving a sincere apology when you did not make the right decision.
Ø Invest in your future by getting all of the education you can. No one can take that from you. It’s yours forever.
Ø The greatest gifts in life are not purchased, but acquired through hard work and determination.
Ø And finally… always believe that your ultimate goal is attainable as long as you commit yourself to it.
As I leave you today, remember that you cannot change yesterday, but you can change tomorrow, and that there are a million paths to the life you truly want. Thank you and good luck in all your future endeavors! Congratulations again!!
Jonathan C. Harris is no stranger to leadership, hard work, or success. At the age of ten years old, he earned the right to be a guest weatherman for a day on Fox 5 DC News. He has already received over 100 honors and awards including Forty Under 40 for Prince George’s County, MD, TEDx Talk speaker, American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Outstanding Men’s Program, high school Valedictorian and the Kiwanis Club Citizenship Award. Raised in Fort Washington, Maryland, he has served in leadership positions his entire life, from being the manager of the school store in elementary school to the president of the Homelessness Awareness Club in middle school to the president of the National Honor Society in high school.