Nobody's Perfect, but We'll Get it Right

I read a lot of graduation speeches during my writing process, and, I have to say, the majority of them were painfully, terribly boring. One of them started with a quote from Ulysses, which I haven't read because there's no pictures in it. Another was dedicated entirely to Full House. Sorry, but I will not be dedicating this speech to Full House. Actually, I tried to dedicate it to Hannah Montana, but my mom said no.

Hopefully, I will not cause you all this same misery.

I will attempt to give you some advice, but let's be real: none of you are going to remember anything I say right now. I could Comedy Central-style roast one of you, and years from now, you wouldn't remember a thing because all you care about is getting out of this crowded gym and graduating.

A lot of people choose inspirational quotes around which they centralize their speeches, so I chose: "nobody's perfect."

You may think this is obvious, or not very thought-provoking, but I disagree. I think the hardest lesson I've had to learn is that I will never achieve everything I work hard for. Sometimes, we do everything we can to achieve our goals, but it's still not enough. Close, but not enough. After all, hard work can get you anywhere, but it will not always get you where you want to be.

For example, no matter how hard my PE class tried, none of us will ever be professional hockey players (or UFC fighters).

The best and the worst things in my life have happened to me this year, and I'm sure this is true for some of you as well. During this year, I've gotten to be all too familiar with the moment when I get so close to what I want and, despite doing everything I can and working my absolute hardest, I still can't get it. Obviously, I really, really hate this. I hate failing, and I know you all do too.

But, failure is inevitable. Whether we like it or not, we are all going to fail in our lives and on our respective career paths. In fact, we may do so often. Luckily, though, there is an immense amount of potential in failure because, when we fail, we are able to reevaluate, diversify, and improve.

When we fail, we have the ability to be better than we've ever been before.

Obviously, it's hard to see this. We've been brainwashed to think that failure is not an imperative stop on the road to success, that it's a roadblock. In history class, we learn about important figures and their iconic works like Leonardo Da Vinci and the Mona Lisa, and we assume they've never failed because we only see their success. Then, we get a warped view of what success is because we only see the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre. We don't learn about Da Vinci's arduous path to fame. We forget that, before the Mona Lisa, there was the Ugly Lisa, which Da Vinci trashed because it was so ugly.

So, what's important to remember is the path to success isn't a straight line upwards. It's not a y=mx + b equation. That's good, because I'm sure most of us would prefer to never have to use algebra again.

In actuality, success is a zigzag line, full of ups and downs. It can't be graphed because it doesn't make any sense. It has no definite ending or beginning. It's a journey, and part of that journey will most definitely be spent making mistakes.

So, my fellow graduates, I'm asking something of you that most people probably won't at this point of our lives or, really, ever: please mess up. Please fail. Please try something you've never done before, and be really, really bad at it. Why? Because this is the only way we learn. It's the only way we learn what we like, what we're good at, and how we'll impact the world.

I know our first instinct is to do whatever we can to not fail because we're afraid of the potential negative implications of failure. But, just like Hillary Duff said in the classic 2004 film A Cinderella Story, "never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game."

We want to be doctors, pharmacists, athletic trainers, vets, and whatever it is that I want to be. I have no doubt that we will be able to achieve our goals, but the key to doing so is to rid ourselves of the fear of failure. Once that fear is absent, there's a world of opportunities available to us.

And then, of course, anything is possible.

I think the quote I mentioned earlier is not only inspirational, but also appropriate for this discussion of failure: "Nobody's perfect/ I gotta work it / again and again/ 'til I get it right." We're not perfect but eventually, we'll figure it out. Class of 2016, I can't wait to see what you get right.

(originally given as the Salutatorian Address at the author's high school graduation on May 21, 2016)