Words Matter

This week, I happened upon a piece of writing that I very much admired and, unless you are closely related to me, you likely would never have the chance to read. In view of our present times, I’ve decided to reproduce it here for all of you.

The article in question is the Valedictory address that my grandmother wrote upon graduating Pocatello High School (Pocatello, Idaho) in 1947 as Valedictorian, aged 17. The speech, entitled The Journey Lies Ahead, is appropriate not only for high school graduates but for all of us, and not only for then but for today.

Born at the beginning of the Great Depression and graduating so close to the end of World War II, my grandmother and others her age have a unique perspective on history and current times–one that, perhaps, is less heard than it ought, drowned out by the sizable clamor of the Baby Boomers. Dated 21 May, 1947, I think this speech can nonetheless speak to us today and, for once, allow the Silent Generation to be heard.

With hope in our hearts, with our diplomas clutched proudly in our hands, with our parents, teachers, and friends smiling fondly at us, we realize that now we must show an adult readiness to meet the challenge of the future.

That readiness is not a quality which we are expected to develop at the mere wave of a wand. It is a characteristic that has been encouraged in each of us since the say we entered grade school. It is in accord with a plan–a definite plan of education. We’re sure you feel that if nothing else has been accomplished in us but the development of worthwhile characters, the expenditure of time and effort has been more that justified, for most of the other admirable qualities are rooted in character. But character and knowledge go hand in hand, and this same plan of education has also made provisions for our acquiring the knowledge that will help to ensure our making wise decisions as to how to meet the great challenge that confronts us, the class of ’47 and every other graduating class in this great land of ours. What, then, is this challenge?

It is one which we must not, which we dare not refuse–that we help to build a better world in which all men may live. Never before in the history of this country has anyone been faced with more serious problems or with greater opportunities than are we at the present time. We are the leaders and we hope the intelligent and well-prepared followers in the world of tomorrow. This world about which I speak does not lie in the distant future, but just around the corner. The qualities needed in people who will live in that world have been encouraged in us. Our leaders must come from those who have developed a strong character, high humane ideals, and a passion for truth. They will guide us in a world which is not altogether an inspiring one, but it is, rather, a challenge for people to live in closer harmony and brotherly love.

We are challenged not only to find answers to our own problems and perform our part to meet the nation’s needs, but also to get along with groups and individuals whose customs and ancestry, accents and grammar, attitudes and religion are foreign to those with which we were brought up.

Our school years have exerted a tremendous influence in showing us how to combat social problems and have taught us to respect other races and nations. They have promoted group cooperation and have provided us with a broader vision of our responsibility toward making our world one world. We have been taught that peace cannot be built on the quicksands of hate, and that only when we have dug down to the rock of brotherly love and affection can all nations live in unity.

Our American future is inescapably linked with the future of all mankind. The United Nations cannot achieve the purpose for which it has been created without our full cooperation. In the making of a lasting peace, we face a momentous task–that of replacing international hatred with love, and prejudice with understanding. We must stretch forth our hands to aid and serve our less fortunate brothers. We must work through world government to bring freedom to all peoples and to build in them confidence in our United Nations.

In high school we have tried our hand at running a unit of government–our own institution. Soon we shall be called upon to help run the government of the world. It is to this task that we, the men and women of tomorrow, must dedicate our efforts. We must work to attain specific and concrete objectives in the fields of international security, economic reconstruction, and social advancement.

Several members of this graduating class are returned veterans of World War II. These youths, whose regular education was interrupted by the war, desired to return to school under the G.I. Bill of Rights so that they would be better fitted for the jobs which they have chosen. These boys helped to save our country, and to preserve its ideals, and they have been an inspiration to the rest of us. Let us work together so that the America they saved will become and remain a satisfaction to herself and a glorious beacon to which the world may turn for inspiration and guidance.

Some of these veterans and many other members of the class of ’47 will enter colleges or other schools of learning. Others of us will go directly into some kind of work. In the next few years, we shall be making important decisions which will in many cases decide our entire futures. But whether we get jobs on farms, in factories, or in stores, or enter one of the professions, we all must meet the challenge–that we help create a better world.

Tonight, as the doors of Poky High close behind us, we shall carry with us many happy memories of our high school years. As the valedictorian of the class of ’47 I wish to thank our teachers, parents, and friends who have made these years mean so much. I know that they have a place in the heart of every graduating senior. Now as we begin our journey, we must say goodbye. It is not the gale but rather the set of the sail that bring home the ship. Our years spent in school have set the sail. We hope we may bring the ship safely to harbor.

So there you have it. Some encouraging words, perhaps, to help us steer the ship aright. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

And now, the season finale of this month’s soundtracks with my favorite mix from September.

  1. Sadie Hawkins – Reliant K
  2. Leave a Light On – Marble Sounds
  3. Ghosts – Crywolf
  4. Half Light – Banners
  5. The Best of Times – Styx
  6. Because I Love You – Montaigne
  7. More than You’ll Ever Know – Nathan Sykes
  8. Death of a Bachelor – Panic! At The Disco
  9. Lost it All – Jill Andrews
  10. Brand New – Ben Rector
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