Keynote Address, National Junior Honor Society 2008

I often have the opportunity to speak before the faculty and student body. In 2010, all middle division faculty were required to give a speech using NPR’s This I Believe as the template. The struggle with giving a speech of this sort is that the subject will be extremely personal, and if we were to be completely honest, it can be difficult to pare down your beliefs into one idea of 500 words or less.

Below is the speech that I gave to the faculty, students and parents on Trustee Visitation Day.

When I was in the third grade, I lived with my grandmother. She was also a teacher at the school I attended. At the time, my best friend’s name was Kim. To me, Kim was the most beautiful girl in our class. I was always jealous of Kim because of her thick brown hair that could be braided and could hold brightly colored barrettes.  My own hair was too thin and fine. Barrettes and ponytails of any kind would just slide right out. In addition, to being the prettiest girl in the third grade, she was also the funniest girl I knew. I felt lucky to be her friend.

Every week, I would pester my grandmother to let me spend the night at Kim’s house. At the end of the school year, my grandmother finally agreed to allow me to sleep over.

On the day that I was going to spend the night, I excitedly walked Kim to my grandmother’s class to say good-bye for the evening and pick up my overnight bag.  As soon as we walked in, my grandmother announced quite loudly that I was not going to be spending the night at Kim’s house. When I asked her why, my grandmother looked Kim up and down, crinkled up her nose, pointed at her and said, “Because she is……Well, no grandchild of mine will be seen going into a home of someone like…her.”

For the first time, I realized that Kim was different from me. She was black and, according to my grandmother, not as good as we were. Kim said nothing. She just turned and walked away with tears streaming down her face to meet her mother in the pick-up line.

I knew my grandmother’s words had hurt Kim deeply, and I could never make her forget them, but I could show her that I didn’t think the same way as my grandmother. I could make her feel loved every day. Every morning, I gave Kim a hug before class. At recess, I would spin her on the merry-go-round until she was giddy with laughter. I would push her on the swings higher than anyone else. I would make sure that we would laugh until we cried. Every. Day. I lost track of Kim after elementary school, but I firmly believe that I made her feel loved, and that she returned that love to me.

As I grew up, I sometimes forgot about the lessons Kim taught me. Life could be hard at times and terribly unfair. It sometimes seemed impossible to find anything to love about my situations, let alone to find anything to laugh at, but over time, I learned to love new things. I developed a love of learning. I changed professions so that I could do a job that I love. I learned to not see tasks at home as chores but as an expression of my love for my family. I learned to find something to love in every person that crosses my path including myself. I learned to find the value in having fun again and laughing until it hurts.  Every morning, I wake up and find something new to love about that day and remind myself to never forget to have a good time because I believe that the power of love and laughter can heal a soul and can create a positive force in one’s life.

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