– It’s not the climb; it’s the cliche.

I can’t help it — that Miley Cyrus song, “The Climb,” has been giving me goosebumps, which goes to show that the intellect has very little control over raw feeling.

I know, I know: The song is laden with cliché and bombast. It’s oversung.

However, my inner teenager has been responding in a big way: Yes <sniff>, it is the climb. That’s what… <snuffle>… matters … <sigh>.

So, what prompts this confession of uncoolness? This morning I’m digging through a box from my personal archives — it’s a big green square gift box labeled “Papers High School + College” in my printing — and I find my high school graduation speech, Leicester High School, Class of 1983. (I wasn’t valedictorian; I was either salutatorian or oratorian, which are either second or third rank.) Even with my reading glasses on, I have to squint to read it: This was the early days of photocopier technology, and the ink hasn’t held up. The full text, however, is legible enough: I see that the speech is laden with cliché and bombast. And while this first speech of mine may not be about the climb, it is about the path, which is a kind of journey. (Maybe only teenaged pop singers get to travel uphill?)

If I’ve piqued your curiosity, I’d also like to satisfy it, so I’ve transcribed the full text below. I don’t promise great or even mediocre rhetoric; it’s just a chance to read what an 18-year-old girl, only a few months away from college and some teacher’s first year composition course, thought was an example of her best writing.

Be kind!

Note: I present this speech verbatim, with no corrections at all, although adult me is tempted to make them. Incidentally, it begins with our class motto, which was selected by me, and its title is the Latin translation of the same.

Non Est Consequentia Propositi sed Res Convenitae ad Viam

“It is not the attainment of the goal that matters;

it is the things that are met with by the way.”

Over the last few weeks, the familiar cry reverberating through the senior hall has been, “I can’t wait ’til it’s over!” We have been wishing away the last few days of high school, marking off dates chalked on a blackboard. Seventeen was replaced by sixteen, sixteen by fifteen, and so on as the numbers approached “1”. The blackboard is now erased and the waiting is over. Today, June first, we have arrived. But, is it the attainment of this goal, graduation, that matters?

Throughout these past twelve-or-so years, on our round-about path to graduation, we have met with many experiences which, at the time, seemed to have little effect on the whole of our lives. For some, it was a brief friendship, which comforted, secured, and enhanced our view of our personal, still-developing, identities. For others, it was a single athletic competition, which tested our mental and physical stamina and skills, and made us acutely aware of our individual talents and limitations. Or maybe, it was a challenging class, a problem difficult to solve, a short fieldtrip, or a comment made by a certain teacher. These experiences might have impressed us little then, but upon reflection, we realized that they influenced us enough to ignite a change within ourselves, which combined with other factors to mold and transform us into the people we are today.

The importance of graduation is not the goal it symbolizes. A lot has happened during our pasts. Not all events are memorable, but each has changed, shaped, and matured us from the under-confident freshmen to the self-assured seniors we are today. Pain has tested us with the rebuff of a teacher, a friend’s betrayal, a poor grade, and an embarrassing moment which still causes us to blush cringe as we remember. We have been fortunate to know the glow of a first romance, the companionship of team play, the elation of passing a difficult exam, and the love of a unique friendship. These elements will not fade as we leave these ceremonies tonight; they are etched indelibly in our persons. They have nurtured us thus far, so they will carry us onward.

We are not here to applaud a glorious end to our childhood and high school years; nor are we here to celebrate the beginning of adulthood and its freedoms and responsibilities. Rather, we are here to recognize the growth that has occured these four years, growth which enables us to make this transition from one stage in our lives to another. Graduation commends us on our successes to this date, and pushes us encouragingly toward the unknown. Those important things that we have met with along the way to the attainment of this goal, graduation, will continue to support us as we face the challenge of the future.

JANE KOKERNAK 1983

9 thoughts on “– It’s not the climb; it’s the cliche.

  1. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotations by Robert Louis Stevenson: “It is a better thing to travel hopefully than it is to arrive.” I have also been cleaning out my files. I discovered a paper I wrote in college and an accompanying letter telling me I had won the “Univ of AZ undergraduate paper competition.” The paper was typed on erasable bond 🙂

    • Jan, that’s an apt quotation. Let’s keep traveling.

      I haven’t been cleaning out my files, but I have been looking through that box of papers, from college esp., and reading my student work with the eye of the teacher I currently am. I’m making some interesting discoveries, and one is that, although I was a pretty good academic writer, I apparently had never heard of a thesis statement, because almost none of my papers had them! (And, interestingly, no teacher commented on the lack of one.) Maybe the academy was less obsessed with the thesis statement in the 1980’s than it is now?

      I’d love to talk sometime about what you see in your early writing. (And also, I hope you’ll keep that paper and accompanying letter in your files!)

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