Editor's note: Melissa Schwark gave this speech Thursday night at the Payson High School graduation. The Roundup received several phone calls asking us to print it.
To the graduating class of 2007:
Congratulations on completing the challenge of high school and making it to this day. We are gathered together here as the graduating class of 2007 for one last time. After today, we will all go our separate ways into the world, and we will face new challenges, as the world we live in today continues to change.
Our generation will face a major test, as we choose the way in which we will live our lives from this point on. As I have personally observed, countless people in our world today live shallow, unfulfilled lives without real meaning or purpose. Many of us simply exist without questioning the reason that we are here or defining the moral principles that drive us. Our American society tells us to seek wealth and self-satisfaction above all else. Unfortunately, the success of our generation will be measured by how much money we make and how many things we acquire, rather than how much we give of ourselves to help others. The privilege of living in a wealthy nation has saturated our lives with excess and self-absorption in countless ways. In our generation, some families spend hundred of thousands of dollars on Sweet 16 parties, instead of giving of their resources to help people in need. It is tragic that many American teenagers care more about the car they drive and the kind of purse they carry, than the morals they carry.
These words of Mahatma Gandhi perfectly summarize the challenge we face: "Be the change that you want to see in the world." By in what ways can we be the change? Most graduation speeches are full of flowery ideas about our ability to achieve any possible dream we set our minds to, but let's be real. Most likely, no one in this graduating class of 2007 will go on to be president. But the good news is that we don't have to be in one of these positions in order to possess the ability to change the world. As individuals, we can begin the process by taking care of the environment, by feeding the hungry, by claiming responsibility for the sick and hurting people throughout the world, and by realizing that life is not all about us. Our generation will have to understand that there are much bigger problems in the world than the personal drama we face. When we look at the scope of humanity and the universe that surrounds us, our individual lives seem so much smaller than we tend to realize.
As teenagers who have grown up in the United States, it is important for us to recognize how blessed we are to live the lives that we do. Even the poorest among us is still inconceivably wealthier than many in the rest of the world. It says in the Bible "to whom much is given, much is required." As a generation that has been given everything, I hope that we can recognize the responsibility we have to reach out of our comfort zones to bring change to the rest of the world.
Graduation reminds us that our childhood is over, and that we are about to enter the world as young adults. Some of us have many more years of education to come. Graduates of the class of 2007 may go on to make great discoveries. They may use their knowledge to find solutions that will bring change to our world. For others, today may be the end of their formal education. Some of us may live the rest of our lives in Payson, but all of us are influential in the effort to change the world. We already possess the tools we need. Our generation can help by raising our children with character, helping them to understand how privileged they are. We mush fight our own self-absorption, meet our personal responsibilities and consistently choose to do the right thing, over the convenient thing.
Recently, I heard a popular song by the artist John Mayer that I believe illustrates our current situation. In that song, Mayer sings, "We see everything that's going wrong with the world and those who lead it, but we feel like we don't have the means to rise above and beat it. So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change." The fact of the matter is that our world will not change itself. It's not our parents' or our grandparents' responsibility anymore. Our future depends entirely on us.
I hope to challenge everyone in the class of 2007 to have the courage to be the change that you want to see in the world. It is true that our four years at Payson High School were fun and full of memories, but it would be a great tragedy to say that these were the best years of our lives. Today, we leave Payson High School, but it is not the end. It is a new beginning for us. As young adults, we stand on the brink of renewed responsibility. It is now time for us to go into the world, embrace those in need, be truly thankful for all that we have, and use out time, energies and resources to spend our lives serving others.
We should conduct ourselves wisely and live our lives in the way that we want to be remembered. Only then will our generation be considered truly successful. Congratulations to the Payson High School graduating class of 2007 and best of luck in the future.