Good-bye High School: My daughter’s ‘Flowers for Algernon’ Speech
July 12, 2014
About a month ago my daughter graduated from a small high school in Vermont. Each senior presented a short speech, song, or poem. I was quite moved by my daughter’s speech, and I have asked her if I could post it here. She gave me permission.
My Daughter’s Graduation Speech:
First of all, I would like to say thank you to all of the people who have helped me over the years. Now, onto my speech:
A few months ago, I had the privilege to read the short story version of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. In this story, Charlie Gordon writes a type of diary of his experiences. Charlie is a man with very low intelligence and through a scientific experiment, his IQ triples, making him a genius. Later in the story, after Charlie’s intelligence reaches its peak, it then plummets. Now, I only remember this vaguely, but my mother tells me that I bawled my eyes out, like many people do when they read this book, but I had a different reason than most. Charlie Gordon’s intelligence plunges and so does his spelling. I was devastated that his literacy was seen as the expression of his intelligence. I’m dyslexic, meaning that I have problems with written language, including spelling and reading. According to this story, literacy is a main way to measure intelligence.
I have had teachers who have told me that they enjoy my writing, and that could read my writing forever. I’ve also had teachers who have told me that they won’t bother themselves with correcting my work because it has so many mistakes. I’ve experienced what it feels like, in a way, to be an intelligent Charlie Gordon, feeling like I can accomplish anything, and also an unintelligent Charlie Gordon, feeling I could never be as great as the people around me, that I was below everyone. I’ve learned that much of what makes us feel intelligent is how we are treated by the people around us. It doesn’t really matter how smart they are, but what matters is how they treat you and make you feel. Do these people make you feel like you belong, or are just an outsider? The people around us are what make us feel either like we will always belong or are never going to be good enough.
So, am I good enough? Do I belong in the class of 2014 ? Here is a secret. Your sense of belonging is not just controlled by the people around you. And you know what? I do belong here, on this stage, graduating. Why? Because I have done the work to be here. Many of my friends here are at least two grades below me, and as a senior, I have my own sense of belonging. I am deciding that I am not the Charlie Gordon who is not as great; I am who I want to be, and as I go forward, to a rebirth of my life, I feel self-assured, because I am the person who truly decides whether my life is a blessing or not.
As I end this speech, I would like to ask something of you. As you go away from here and on into the inevitable future, look around you and don’t see people through eyes clouded by contempt and disdain when they do not match your expectations. You are not better than they are; you are not worse than they are either. Perhaps we are not all equal on the surface, but we are all just star-dust. Billions of cells latched together, we are all part of the animal kingdom. We are all human, and I beg of you, to recognize that fact.