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WORDS TO LIVE BY: Anna Blachman

"By choosing the names you bear as an adult, you are controlling how others see you and how you see yourself"

Anna Blachman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graduation speeches logo

Congratulations class of 2012. As a class, we have accomplished great things. Our senior prank was fabulous, and individually we have ambitious plans for next year. Throughout our four years at Arlington High School, I believe we have made our name proud. Unfortunately, it is time for us to discard our name. It’s time for us to become the class of 2016 or 2017. It’s time for us to become employees and travelers. It’s time for us to transition from being daughters and sons to being adults.

Names hold a lot of power in our lives. First names are used to call someone’s attention or to point out someone who is being discussed. Full names are used to identify people or by parents in anger.

So far, any name you bear was provided by others. Your legal name was given by your parents soon after you were born, but now as an adult you alone hold the power to change that. You have all the born the name of our class and our town as you represented Arlington. Going forward, you choose the names that you feel define you best and that you want others to use in identifying you.

I have appointed myself the following names. Singer, dancer, sister, daughter, procrastinator, liberal, babysitter and Jew. Each of these names brings with it the preconceptions that others have, but by selecting these names myself get to choose which biases I want to deal with.

By choosing the names you bear as an adult, you are controlling how others see you and how you see yourself. While this is an exciting prospect, with great power comes great responsibility. In the difficult journey that remains ahead for each of us, I offer one piece of advice: keep an open mind.

Keep an open mind when dealing with others.

Maybe the kid sitting to your right is someone you’ve spent a ton of time with over the past four years. But more likely than not, at least one of the people sitting next to you is someone you vaguely know. Each of you probably has views about the other person that are based on rumors you’ve heard from your friends. Or you’ve based your whole opinion of them on interactions you had in middle school.

While it’s really hard to change the past and past judgments, keeping an open mind when you’re interacting with people throughout your day can make such a huge difference. I know that when I’m a driver I absolutely cannot stand pedestrians. Those stupid people are just standing in my way. But I’m often a pedestrian as well, cursing just as violently at the reckless drivers. Taking one second to remember how it feels to be behind the wheel of the car doesn’t physically change the situation I’m in. It does, however, put me in a better frame of mind to deal with the situation.

I once heard a man named Marc Elliot speak. He told us how he was the kid who yelled racial slurs and swear words around little children. But it wasn’t because he was rude or because he liked to provoke people. He was suffering from a severe case of Tourette’s Syndrome. He told us stories of being kicked off of buses because of symptoms he had literally no control over. Once, he was labeled as retarded by a bystander who was trying to explain his behavior. He told us of his journey to control his random yelling out, his tics, and finally left us with the message that he had gained from his experiences: live and let live. Don’t let harsh judgments influence the way you interact with people you don’t even know.

This is a noble standard to aim for, but even a tiny change in actions can cause an attitude shift. Holding the door for someone you hate, because sometimes everyone has their hands full. Smiling at a homeless person even if you are sure they are asking for drug money. Both actions that cost you nothing but positively influence those around you if you are only willing to keep an open mind.

Beyond keeping an open mind towards other people, it’s also important to keep your mind open towards yourself. Coming out of high school, you may have very strong ideas about who you are and who your friends are. You might be the jock or the artist or the nerd. But how many adults do you know that define themselves in those terms? Moving out into the world, these rigid divisions between categories of people dissolve pretty quickly.

Think of something you’ve always wanted to do. Skydiving? Eating calamari? Snorkeling? Can you think of one good reason that you haven’t done that thing? Being embarrassed or nervous definitely does not count as a good reason. You were probably nervous before you tried all of you current favorites. If you have the means going forward, try new things. Stretch the limits of your comfort zone with new experiences and don’t be embarrassed if you stumble a little at first.

Make sure you do not follow a strict path. Even as you seek to find names that suit you, don’t limit yourself. Don’t let a name that you have chosen for yourself define every part of you. I am certainly not a fully formed human being at 18 and I hope that I am not a fully formed human being even at 80. This winter I took my grandmother to Berryline for her first frozen yogurt. She is 82 and still loves to find new pleasures in the world. By surrounding yourself with vibrant and dynamic people like my grandma, you will find it easier to keep an open mind and let yourself explore new ideas and places.

That’s all the advice I have. As much as this ceremony is a very symbolic goodbye to Arlington, for me at least, it’s a real goodbye. Next year I’m going to be over three thousand miles away and as my dad can attest, a cross country move can be hard to reverse. I suppose all that’s left is to wish everyone good luck. The world can sometimes be ruthless and even with the best preparation, sometimes a little luck is just what you need. Thank you.

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