2014 La Grande HS Commencement Speech
When I was a boy I had a recurring dream. I’m in a wide open deserted space, my father stands off a little ways from me. On the horizon I see robed figures approaching me from all sides. Steadily they draw around me in a tightening circle. I feel a sense of anticipation as if something important is about to be revealed to me...something that will change my life...and then I wake up.
My name is Kevin Cahill and I’d like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you and your loved ones today. Class of 2014, I’ve been working and playing with and watching you for a long time now and if there is one thing that has triggered my admiration and my empathy for you as you have navigated this high school experience, it is your.... humanity.
Your humanity has shaped me more powerfully than you realize I am who I am in large measure due to your influence and your example. It has been your spirited efforts to solve the maze of each day at LHS, your hunger for love and laughter, your boundless energy, your curiosity about things unknowable and things taboo, your wiliness in the face of authority, your passion for beauty and pleasure, your individual creative genius, your amazing expertise in so many areas I know little or nothing about, your grace in both victory and defeat, your fierce loyalties to friends, your love of music, your intense desire for privacy, your battles with personal demons, your frustrations with people and words, and your vulnerability in the face of personal tragedy. In all these ways you have recalled me every day for the past four years back to my own humanity and that matters so much to me because living and working in an institution as we have for so many years, it is sometimes too easy to forget what it means to be human.
Think about what it means to be institutionalized... all the rules and regulations, policing everything in your lives from seat time to screen time, from GPAs to PDAs, from eligibility on the field to incorrigibility in the classroom, from credit denial to absence approval, from book fines to hemlines to lunch lines, spaghetti straps and speed traps, from hourly bells hour to bans on cells, from GEDs to activity fees, from transcript requests to make up tests, from the ISS lab to three hours of ASVAB. from parties to tardies, from speedos to redos, from testing benchmarks to forbidden places to park, from community service chores to poster wars, from bathroom passes to elections for classes, from substance abuse to internet use, from film ratings to prom dating, from spirit week competition to bus evacuation, from security cams to instagrams, ...being institutionalized over time can lead you, if you are not vigilant, to forget some important things...things like how following rules is a poor substitute for using your personal judgement, things like how people are not meant to be herded and sorted like livestock, things like how bells don’t really tell you when something is over or about to begin, things like how being here is not the same thing as being present, things like how love and learning are two sides of the same coin.
You have helped me remember these things. You have reminded me every day that being human means being wrong even while you’re trying be good. It’s about trying and failing. It’s
about humbling yourself in order to learn from experience. It’s about not knowing but guessing bravely.
You are poised at this moment to begin making some very brave guesses about what’s going to come next. Here’s my advice and don’t take this the wrong way, because I really mean this. It’s time for the Fail Stage. You may have heard of it. It’s the stage that comes before the Success Stage. Nobody gets to skip it. So I want all of you to get ready to fail. It’s going to be great! I want you to get out there and pile up some impressive failures. I want you to be the first to fail; I want you to fail fast; fail over and over; fail better and better. Fail here at home; faile in a foreign country. Fail alone; fail with your friends. Collect your failures; sing about them in songs; tell stories about your failures round campfires or in the garage under the hood of your pickup truck
or at a late night table in Denny’s. Ignore your failures and they’ll haunt you; embrace them and they’ll teach you a great deal you need to know. Everything I treasure in my life today I can trace back to past failures, epic failures. I may not be proud of them, but I am grateful for them.
One of the occupational hazards of being a teacher is succumbing to the temptation of believing in my own rightness. I mean look at the things I do as a teacher. I ask you questions I know the answers to; I assign you stories I’ve already read; I design tasks for you whose outcomes are predictable or even preordained. In so doing I have occasion to shine a spotlight on you when you are wrong, when you fail. I‘ve put that spot light on many of you ... and I know it hasn’t always been pleasant, and, what can I say? You’re welcome. Seriously, here’s a little secret... the truth is that you have convinced me of my wrongness far more often than you realize. You have compelled me to reconsider my thinking, you have persuaded me to revise my practices, and, most importantly, you have penetrated my heart. Because of you I will never be the same. Because of you.
In my boyhood dream I always wake up. Waking up. What does waking up mean? I think it means awakening to the realization that nobody is going to whisper in your ear the answer to everything. Nobody knows. Nobody knows; they don’t know; none of us knows. You don’t know and so don’t I. We’re the same. We’re all guessing, guessing as bravely as we know how.
So lets get on with it Class of 2014. Time to try. Time to fail. I’ve got tremendous faith in you. You’re going to be rich in life lessons. Rich beyond imagining. You have enriched my life beyond measure. I am so grateful to have spent these years with you. Be well. Thank you.