Friday, June 17, 2011

Commencement '11

As fate would have it, I received a phone call a few weeks ago from the principal at Santa Cruz High.  Although I’ve done a good bit of teaching over there, summer was on the horizon and I couldn’t quite place why she’d be reaching out at this particular time.  It didn’t take long for her to bestow upon me one of the greatest honors I’ve received in this lifetime.  Keynote Speaker at Graduation. 
As the day drew nearer I began to jot down ideas and coordinate my thoughts for the event.  With a good deal of stage and classroom speaking time under my belt, I wasn’t too concerned with nerves or organization.  So long as I could step to the microphone with some notes as a reference, I felt pretty comfortable addressing the students off the cusp so to speak. 
Well, the day came, and as I strolled at the front of the procession, smack dab in the middle of shorter district representatives and school heads of staff all adorned in black gowns, I couldn’t help but say, “(Damn)…I feel like OBAMA!”  It was great. 
Photo by Pamela K. Iriguchi
Even better was standing on the stage, watching the students file in.  There was an overwhelming sense of pride emanating from both them and their parents looking on.  It was truly powerful. 
As the last of them made their way to their seats, the principal stepped to the mic and said. ”Students, you may be seated.”  However, NO ONE HEARD HER!  She glanced back at the soundman, baffled.  Yes, the unthinkable was happening.  Before a good 3,000+ people, the mic was not working!  All too familiar with the unreliable nature of sound systems, I smirked knowing full well we were in for a ride for the next few minutes. 
Initially, I wanted to jump up and snatch the mic and start checking it…”Check Check..1,2 1,2”  Then I thought to grab another mic and make the switch.  Without question out of everyone on the stage, I was the most comfortable with handling this kind of situation.  BUT..I was THE keynote speaker.  I had to keep some dignity about me! So I sat.. and I sat..and waited for the sound man to do what he was being paid to do.  After the longest 3-5 minutes of our lifetimes, there was still no sign of progress.  I could sit no longer. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
I stepped beside the pulpit, looked toward the students and said let’s clap…We started slow and progressed to fast.  Basic and fun.  Next we moved on to the wave.  Started it with the students and passed it on to the parents.  It took a few tries, but by the 3rd time we managed to get it going all the way around the stadium.  With that, I returned to my seat and whispered to the Assistant Principal, ”You’re on your own.”  A couple of minutes later they managed to generate sound. 
As the principal began addressing the students, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out my notes, to review my progression speech wise.  No sooner than I did, did she begin to start her shpeal about me.  I looked at the AP and said…”I’m on NOW?” 
She said, “Yep.” 
I was stunned.  I could’ve sworn the keynote speaker came well into our ceremony back in the day.  But I can’t say that I recall so clearly now a good 10+ years removed from my most recent graduation.  Regardless, the time was NOW and I was extremely uncomfortable as I stepped to the microphone. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  The moment I began to speak, one of the students started to toss a blow up girl around the student body.  It was absolutely hilarious!  But quite a distraction to fend with in the opening of such a meaningful moment.
With no time to waste on account of our delay, I jumped right in despite the diversion.  It took a good while for the buzz to die down and the focus to return, but I pushed through and continued to deliver, all the while that voice in my head was screaming “What the fuuuuck?!?”
Needless to say, my rhythm was disturbed, but this is graduation.  It’s not like the classroom where you can stop the students and say, “Hey, I’m trying to tell you something important right now and you’re over here playing with dolls.”  You can’t tell the parents, “Hush folks, I’m tryin to give these kids some guidance.” simply push through.  And that’s what I did. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
I drew parallels between graduation and the Rites of Passage ceremonies that take place in cultures throughout the globe. Discussed the balancing of passions and practicality. (Can you believe? J)   Addressed the power and uniqueness of the stage of life they are in and how they have the opportunity to guide their lives toward whatever it is they’re passionate about.  And a myriad of other nuggets before closing out with a story about my good friend Awad, from Sudan, who told me right there by the Red Sea in Egypt that no matter if I’m on TV or in magazines, a millionaire or just a good father… I will be and am A STAR.  It was powerful. 
Pamela K. Iriguchi
And then I sat…and wondered…just how bad that speech was?  It felt choppy, disorganized and anything but smooth.  I couldn’t believe it, right there before thousands of people, I failed to rise to the occasion and capture the moment.  But as they say in Egypt, “Hallas.”  It’s done.  No turning back, no undoing…it’s done. 
And when graduation was done, all those doubts were put to rest.  Students, parents, teachers, Grandparents, they all came and shared a different part of the speech that spoke to them.  For me, that was the most meaningful part, seeing all the different generations who were touched by the message.  I even got a Hallelujah in the middle of one part!
It was awesome…and still continues to be.  Now when I walk downtown, I get stopped by people I’ve never met before who were there and were moved by the words that spoke through me.  It’s absolutely HUMBLING.  Not only to be given such a beautiful opportunity, but to feel a purpose much greater than me has been served. 
God Is Good.  (and so is Buddha and the rest of em!)

No comments:

Post a Comment