Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Valedictorian's Speech from Prison

A graduation speech from a prison inmate that will knock your socks off....I'm sharing it with Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, the directors of the Oregon Youth Authority and Department of Corrections, and my state senator and state representative...


Graduation Speech
Trask River High School
Tillamook, Oregon
Stephen Kaplan, Valedictorian
June 8, 2013

Well, here we are.  Graduation.  It has always been bizarre to me why we make it such a big event. All we had to do was show up to class, turn in some homework and pass a few tests.  I actually felt that way until I was asked to write a speech on the subject.  It wasn’t until I sat down and thought about what really went into graduating that I realized that it is a big event.

Having worked so hard to pass those tests, attending those classes, at becoming the man that could stand in front of you and speak on such a subject, I found that it is a great occasion.  I found that, especially for these sixteen graduates who are up here today, three things make it memorable:
  • The opportunities that got us here.
  • The work we did to get here.
  • What it can tell us about our futures, ourselves, and our lives.
The opportunities that we were given were unlikely.  Most of us came from places that we would never have had the chance to accomplish such a thing.  Some from bad neighborhoods, others from dysfunctional families, wherever it was, school was not much of a priority.

Then we got locked up.  In a place equated with loss of our lives as we knew them, freedom, and most, a little sanity.

Though some doors may have been locked behind us, many have opened in front of us.  We were given the opportunities to be here today.

The biggest thing that makes this such an important occasion are the sixteen men in front of you.  They took such an unlikely opportunity and ran.  They saw that door and walked through it, each facing their own struggles in doing so.  And whether it was the alphabet in math, where the comma goes in writing, or for myself, two long terms in fiber arts, we all overcame them in order to be graduating today.

As for the future, well, it’s what we make it.  I feel that I can speak for all of us when I say that these opportunities were a second chance in showing ourselves and others that it’s not time to give up yet; that we still have things to accomplish no matter how small or great.  And more than anything it shows us that we all have the ability to achieve what seemed so unlikely.

I want to finish with a quote that really sums up the importance of this event and what it means to each of us.  By my fellow graduate, Kenneth J.  

He says, “A seed that wishes to thrive will blossom through concrete.”

And that is exactly what we did.  

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