Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fox Elementary School Commencement Speech

To start off this morning I’d like to congratulate each and every one of you in the audience today—from the teachers, faculty and staff of Fox Elementary, to the friends, parents, grandparents and siblings here to support their loved ones, to the Fifth Graders themselves, who-- after six years that perhaps felt like six lifetimes-- are here to be honored as they prepare to move on from this big chapter in the book of life called Elementary School.  

There are many more chapters to come, and in each and every one of them you will be the hero or the heroine of your own adventure, creating lifetimes full of plots, characters, details and story arcs that will likely be difficult for most of the adults in this room right now to even fathom. Will you be vacationing on the moon? Typing in passwords that will allow you to teleport at will? Breaking the speed of light? Curing cancer, ending hunger and finding the key to world peace? I hope so. But before I launch into what I think of your stories, I want to tell you just a little bit about mine.

I, myself, am a veteran of elementary school—as well as a few other schools that came along after that and I’m very happy to tell you that now I teach creative writing workshops for adults as well as creative writing after school classes and summer camps for children through a year round program called Richmond Young Writers held at Chop Suey Books in Carytown, home to Wonton, perhaps the most famous black and white kitty cat in all of Richmond, Virginia.

Why am I happy to tell you this? Well, probably like some of you, when I was in elementary school, I was convinced that I was really a princess that had been kidnapped from the Royal Family or at the very least an alien in the disguise of a little girl planted here on earth to steal the secrets of the human race. I just knew that at any moment I would be rightfully restored to my proper place, either in the Royal Palace—or on Mars. I was sure there was some big secret or revelation as to who I really was and therefore what my real purpose was here on this planet.

However, by about the fifth grade when both the spaceship and the queen had failed to come rescue me from my mom’s house in the West End or my dad’s apartment in the Fan, my ambitions changed ever so slightly. Instead of being a princess or an alien I decided that I would have to settle for something just a little lower down the totem pole-- being famous! I wanted to be a famous reader first and a famous writer second but even more than that I really just wanted to be old enough to stay up all night long eating candy. Which I’m also happy to tell you, eventually I did.

Meanwhile however, before I left home, my mother always had a saying for me, “Don’t wish your life away!” because she wanted me to enjoy the perks of childhood--- being able to roam the wilds of my own back yard and my own imagination without pesky adult interruptions like having to pay the mortgage, file taxes or figure out what in the world to make for dinner.

When the time came and I was finally old enough to leave I went as far as I could, looking for fame, fortune and my true identity first in New York, then in Italy, then in Colorado, then in Arkansas and finally in the Last Frontier, Alaska.

While I did meet a lot of amazing people and see a lot of cool things and gather up a lot of interesting experiences did I find fame and fortune just because I’d gotten as far away from home as I could? No. But I did get this: I got a chance to know myself better and, by the time I came all the way home right back to where I’d started--- the house I’d grown up in with just up the street from here I found that just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I’d always had everything I needed inside of me to find what I’d been looking for.  

It turns out, I actually knew at 8, 9, 10 and 11 a lot of the things I sometimes had to struggle to remember in my teens and twenties and thirties--- how to make and be a true friend, how to have fun writing a really weird sentence, how to love animals and plants and the other creatures on this earth, how to get lost for hours in my own minds and between the covers of a really great book. 

Maybe you really are an alien living on earth pretending to be a human or royalty stolen at birth or a witch or a wizard trying to make your way in the muggle world. Even so, your job is not only to find out who you are, but to remember it, to hold what you already know to be true close to your heart, and your mind, and your hands.   

I do believe that on this earth, we each have a mission. It might be to stop the destruction of the magical world by He Who Cannot Be Named like Harry and Hermione or save your sector like Katniss and Peeta or your father from the dark planet of Camazotz dominated by the Black Thing like Meg and Charles Wallace or to get the ring back from Gollum like Frodo and his gang.  Or, it might be to be kind to someone who is being teased, to stand up for what you believe in, to create art, to test experiments, to create inventions, to care for animals or even to simply get to know better and better the person who is already inside of you. 

 So, as you launch into your futures, one that in the next couple of months might look a lot like a big new building with a million different teachers, combination locks and bathrooms with enormous toilets, you may be daydreaming of bigger, better things to come. And they will.  I’m sure in this room we have budding rocket scientists, brain surgeons, herpetologist, concert violinists, private investigators, inventors, computer whizzes, maybe even a future President of the United States….or Jupiter.
However, like my father once told me, remember, that an acorn already contains everything it needs to become the most magnificent oak tree. Though you will need plenty of sunshine and water to grow to your most glorious potential, the essence of who you are and who you will be is already inside of you. Your trunks will grow strong, your roots will grow deep and your branches will stretch wide, but that acorn is no less perfect than the tree. 

Though I am certain that each of you will launch, far and wide, I truly believe that you already have everything you need to make that happen. So learn, teach, invent, discover, imagine, travel, blossom and grow but don’t forget what counts. What you already know, right now in this room.

Thanks very much for allowing me to be here today…and congratulations to everyone!


  1. Wow! Just that. I wish I had heard this when I was 9, 10, 11, or 12. Or even at 21. Thank you for the reminder! Gail

  2. quit it, you're making my tears leak out! Seriously, thank you!