I have for the past 14 years penned a speech I would have given had I been invited to speak at a high school graduation. This year, I still haven’t had the merit to be invited, so here’s the speech I would have delivered.

So it is graduation time, there you are, all spruced up in your robes and hats, excited about leaving high school and entering the real world, excited about growing up and becoming adults. Congratulations you made it. The question is, however, will you survive?

It’s a tough world out there, lots of distractions, evil lurks seemingly around every corner and as smart as you think you are, you aren’t.  Think back to when you thought you outwitted your teacher by cheating on that paper or test, think about how proud you were that you got away with it. Then know that the teacher knew you cheated. Believe it or not teacher s are not dummies and we know the abilities of our students, sometimes better than our students.  When an essay or test is too good to be true, we know. There are many reasons why we call some students on cheating and let others get away with it, but the truth is, each and every time we see a cheat, each and every time we see copied material, it hurts. We put a lot of work into our classes, research, unit plans and when a student cheats, it means that we failed, as teachers, to instil a sense of morality in that student and in teaching them the material. Aside from hurting your education, your cheating hurts your teacher.

But enough about cheating, you are graduating, it’s all water under the bridge, isn’t it? Well ya, it is, I’m sure that in whatever college or university you go to, the lecturer or professor will also turn a blind eye, oh wait, no,  you’ll get expelled from the school. Good luck with that..

Now graduation time is the time to reflect on years past and look towards the future. I remember at my graduation, I reflected on the years of torture that I faced as I was bullied throughout high school. I reflected on the tears, on the fear and on the hiding at lunch so I could eat in peace. I was so happy to get out of that place, it was hell on earth for me, but I digress, this is your graduation, not mine.

For those of you who were tortured, beaten, bullied and abused in any way, know this, every single insult, every single punch, every single tear you shed all made you a stronger person. Each time someone degrades you, it is a reflection of their insecurities, each time someone hits you, it’s an effort for them to feel superior, to knock you down because they feel that you are above them.  Always know that you and only you can shape your future.

It doesn’t matter if a teacher told you that you wouldn’t amount to anything or that you are stupid or useless or whatever combination of destruction the educator chose to crush you with. It’s not true. I was told that I was a useless lump of talentless clay, I was in grade 8, I believed it.  For years I resigned myself to the fact that I was useless. I would work hard on school work, I made few friends and pretty much stayed to myself. But life and I believe G-d works miracles.

At the end of grade 8, my school merged with another one and we suddenly got an influx of students and teachers. One of the teachers, Mrs. Zamborsky, a frumpy old English teacher, took me under her wing, even though I wasn’t one of her students.  She believed in me. She worked as the staff adviser for the school newspaper that I was editor of, she encouraged me to start writing a column for The Suburban when the opportunity arose and she mentored me throughout the rest of high school. She was my guardian angel, she pulled me out of my slump and showed me that I could be whatever I wanted, she inspired me and most of all did it with heart. When I was in grade 10, she had a heart attack and retired from teaching, but much to my surprise, showed up at my graduation at the end of grade 11. When I saw her, my eyes lit up, I ran up to her and hugged her, she handed me a card and told me that she wouldn’t have missed my graduation for the world.  24 years later, not even knowing if she is still alive, I still have a huge place in my heart for her.

I hope when you look back at high school you find that one teacher that impacted your life in a way no other could. Embrace that memory, use the energy of it to propel forward and be the best that you can be.

Don’t let bullies and negativity get you down, work hard, play hard, live your life on your terms, you only have one chance at it, enjoy it, because it goes by fast. Don’t procrastinate, do what you got to do, make yourself and your life amazing.

Remember, success isn’t measured in dollars and cents, it’s measured in quality of life. Spend time with your family, love your children, treat your spouse like royalty and even if you are poor and have no idea where your next meal is coming from, you will be the most successful person in the world.

Thank you for listening, good luck and congratulations!

By Howie Silbiger

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