In the course of this month’s self-isolation due to the pandemic, I’ve sorted, organized and weeded out closets and drawers. Yesterday’s focus included smaller, obscure places like my horizontal file cabinet. In it were three folders huddled in the back, not seen since they were placed there when we moved to Auburn 4 ½ years ago. (I know! How could it be that long ago!) I pulled them out, sat down and began culling through the papers, reading each page and remembering why I had saved them.
A third of the way into the stack, I discovered three pages of stapled, yellowed paper, with words that had been typed on my mother’s Underwood typewriter that began, “Ladies and Gentlemen…” I had a short intake of breath and a rush of memories flooded my entire body.
This was the commencement speech I gave at my high school graduation, January 1962. And the topic? What makes a happy individual? Finding this speech reminded me that my internal compass generally points in the direction of happiness. When I read it, my older self said, “I wish I’d been there to help improve your writing.” And my younger self replied, “I’m glad you left me alone.”
I noticed a couple of characteristics in her speech that have not changed over time. That high school senior had a sense of humor and altruistic ideals. I remembered how powerful she felt as she addressed her audience. “Happiness means many things to many people. To some, it may mean prestige. To others wealth. Some find happiness in struggle, others in peace. A few seek quiet and productive obscurity. Others are not happy unless bathed in fame, and there are some who bathe more than others.” That got a big laugh.
That seventeen-year-old continued, “The person who can get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m proud of who I am,’ is a happy individual.” There were other qualities she thought were important. “A man who has no faith has nothing upon which to rely, and therefore he has no security.” She also talked about the importance of contributing to society, setting goals, following dreams, and having the generosity to let each person choose the path to their own happiness.
Fifty-eight years after the speech was given, I smile as I read the faded words. I realize, over time some things do change. All the gender nouns and pronouns in the speech were masculine. It was not noticeable in 1962, but very noticeable in 2020.
That girl still lives in me. Tomorrow, when I rise, I’ll look for her in the mirror.
Photo credit: Elizaveta Dushechkina