Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dubious Advice from My Teenage Self

A few days ago my mother e-mailed me a scanned copy of the salutatorian speech I wrote and delivered at my high school graduation. My grandfather had kept a copy (that's his handwriting in the upper right) and my mom recently unearthed it, apparently. Note the top-quality dot-matrix printing, ha ha.

Reading it, I was shocked by how similar my writing voice was to its current incarnation—despite the fact that, at the time, becoming a writer was not even on my radar. I enjoyed writing, and I always have, but as you probably know, until about ten years ago I fully intended to devote my career to some form of visual art.

The other thing that struck me on reading my sixteen-year-old self's words was the fact that I still seem to be struggling with some of the same writing-related issues 17 years later. Despite a few specific details, the speech is almost painfully generic. And even now, I feel like one of my weaknesses as a writer is tendency to fall back on cliché and genericness.

But there are a few things I love about it, too. I love the fact that I inserted a pause specifically in order to "look cosmic." I love the fact that I pretended I was tearing up a fictitious "bad" speech I'd allegedly written in favor of delivering these, er, nuggets of wisdom—a rather theatrical segment which I had to argue for keeping, and was only allowed to perform on condition that I word it carefully so as not to appear controversial (cf. the "this is the speech I could have written" part). I also love the fact that my dad took a picture* of that moment and captioned it with a post-it note ("now you are tearing your speech!").

In some ways, I hardly know what to think about it. Part of me can't help noticing what a risk-avoider I was, in the sense that I could easily have performed my speech with my originally intended wording on the day of graduation with little or no repercussion. But then, in some ways giving a speech at all is a risk of sorts. So I guess it evens out.

*Could not find the picture despite repeated searching. I know it exists, because I remember seeing it in a box a few years ago. Which box? Who knows?

3 comments:

tanita davis said...

Your whole family is so cute. My Dad was watching baseball so he didn't actually make it to my graduation, the butthead. It's nice that your people were at least proud of you.

Also, Look Cosmic is pretty much advice that I think all of us should follow... if only we could figure out how the heck to do so.

Don't feel bad about the genuine say-nothingness of this speech -- I don't know a whole lot of grad speeches chock full of meaning. You definitely made a point of blending in with everyone else, which is a lot of what the teen experience is about, unless you're part of the cast of My So-Called Life or channeling Pretty in Pink or DeGrassi or something. It is what it is.

David T. Macknet said...

I just think that 1) you're cool for having the courage to stand up in front of a crowd and give a speech, and 2) your grandfather is awesome for having saved your speech!

aquafortis said...

That was one of my dad's cuter moments. Believe me, I would not generally use "cute" to describe my dad...

Yeah, with grad speeches the chances of people (besides my parents) even paying attention are pretty minimal, I think, anyway.

I mean, jeez, I don't even remember what I said at the Mills graduation. How sad is that? Oh, I lied--I think I said something about "at least I have this fancy hood to throw around."

Words for the ages...not.