I'm not really sure why it took me so long to post this, but I gave this speech at my high school graduation this past June, and I thought it was worth sharing. Other than some minor changes for publication, this is the speech as delivered.
Well, we made it. We’ve been through a lot in our four years here in high school. We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of accomplishments, and a lot of memories. And while it might seem like a great time to take a breath of relief and relax for a while, we’re not done yet. In fact, we’re not even remotely close to being done.
Our generation is facing a number of growing crises. Our planet is heating up at a rate unlike we’ve ever observed in human history. There are places where people still lack what we consider to be basic human rights like freedom of speech and access to education. Some parts of the world don’t even have sufficient amounts of true essentials like food or water supplies, much less things that many of us may find “essential” like cell phones and the Internet.
Now, most of these issues are not going to be fatal in our lifetimes. They won’t drive us to extinction. They won’t tear society apart. Many of these issues are not going to be a huge problem tomorrow or the next day or next year. We could just put them off like another English paper.
But one day, these issues could grow to an insurmountable size. We cannot just pass these issues on to the next generation, because if we do, it could be too late. It is our job—it is our responsibility to solve these issues for the benefits not only of ourselves, but more importantly of the future of humanity. We must create progress. We must move forward. I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy. Progress is never easy. Positive change requires an amazing amount of hard work. But that doesn’t worry me. Because I know the people in our generation are ready for the challenge.
Some of you may be thinking, “I’m just an average kid from a small town. I’m never going to change the world”. But you’re wrong. Everyone of you here has the power to create change. It doesn’t matter what your grades were or who you were in high school. What matters is who you are, your character, what you choose to do.
It does not take genius to change the world—what it takes is hard work. What it takes is dedication. What it takes is imagination. Anyone can change the world.
But moving forward is not always initially successful. In fact, most of the time it isn’t successful at all. Most of the time when you try to make progress, you are going to fail. You are going to struggle.
And that’s OK—in fact, that’s wonderful. Failure is this amazing force that keeps people on their toes, that keeps people from resting, that keeps people moving. Failure and struggling do not make us weak; they make us human.
Failure is one of the key motivators of human life. Sometimes we learn things from success, but failure is also a powerful teacher. Failure is the way that we learn to be better people, and a better society. You should never hesitate to do something because of fearing failure. The effects of failure are almost always temporary, while the impact of perseverance and hard work can be everlasting.
And yes, sometimes, you will screw up. Sometimes, you will break things.
But in order to move forward, you have to break things. Rules, preconceptions, limits. You have to stop thinking in terms of what is and start thinking in terms of what could be. When you look at the world since Burrell's first graduating class, we as humans have made outstanding progress. We mapped the human genome. We took computers the size of a warehouse and shrunk them to fit in a pocket. We put a man on the moon. The list goes on and on.
The people who made these advancements knew failure, and embraced it. Do you think that the researchers on the Human Genome Project never broke things? Or the computer engineers at IBM, Apple, and Microsoft? Or the scientists on the Apollo project at NASA? Of course they did. They all broke things occasionally, if not frequently, but they kept going. They kept moving forward. They embraced their failure, and used it to push humanity ahead.
And I know that we can do the same. We can make great progress just like they did. But in order for that to happen, it depends on every one of us. We need scientists, artists, and engineers to push our race forward and inspire the next generation. We need dreamers and innovators to imagine the future. We need people who are ready to take risks and not be afraid of failure. We need people who are willing to break things.
So, if you remember anything from this speech, remember this.
Keep moving forward. Keep dreaming. Keep breaking things.