Speak the Speech
I recently had the honor of giving the commencement speech to the eighth graders culminating from William Jefferson Clinton Middle School in South Los Angeles.
A few quick facts about Clinton (taken from their website): it’s an inner-city middle school serving 900 students in a “predominantly commercial warehouse/industrial district that also resides in one of Los Angeles’s gang reduction zones.”
The majority of the students’ parents and guardians are not high school graduates, and 80% of the students speak a language other than English at home.
Given those circumstances, I was especially impressed to learn that fifty percent (109 of 218) of the eighth-grade graduates made the honor roll; 64 had perfect attendance since the sixth grade; and 31 culminated with straight As. Bravo!
A huge share of the credit for this success belongs to Principal Sissi O’Reilly, who came onboard in 2011 to initiate a series of comprehensive reforms to improve academics, behavior, and attendance.
Sissi, her dedicated staff and teachers, and a small army of volunteer tutors and mentors (from Diplomas Now, Talent Development Secondary, City Year, and Communities in Schools) have poured countless hours into providing the students of Clinton a rigorous academic program with high standards and expectations.
In other words, they’re giving these students the education they deserve.
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Trippingly on the Tongue*
The ceremony took place at the impressive Bovard Auditorium on the campus of USC, just across the freeway from Clinton.
I’m new to public speaking in a venue this big. So I figured I’d be a little nervous. And I know that when you’re nervous, you tend to speak too fast.
That’s why I wrote the note above ALL OVER MY SPEECH.
I started off like I was shot out of a cannon. (Eventually, tongue fatigue applied the brakes.)
But I hope the point of the speech came through. It was about what it means to be a hero when you’re in eighth grade (or just turning eleven, like Alex in Eleven).
It’s also about a time I had a chance to be a hero. And failed.
In the speech, I used a favorite quote from Maya Angelou as inspiration:
“Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
So here’s my first commencement speech. If you care to follow along with a transcript (I’m guessing this applies to only two people, known to me as “Mom” and “Dad”), click here: Rogers speech at Clinton MS transcript.
[EDIT, 7 July 2014: this original post also included video of the entire ceremony, since I thought some of the graduates might enjoy seeing themselves onstage receiving their diplomas. However, I’ve since removed the video due to a concern about parental permissions for videotaping. My apologies for the error.)
Congratulations again to the Clinton graduates of 2014! May you go forward in life with courage.
* Bonus points for any of you middle-schoolers who can identify this reference.