I recently had the honor of going home and speaking at a high school graduation. I thought I would share my words here.
I learned a lot in this town. Twenty-five years ago, I came to this school as a fourth grader. (I realize none of you high school students were even born then and now see me as a very old lady…hang with me anyway.)
I learned to swim in your pool. I learned long division in your elementary hall. Played my first basketball game in your old, old gym. On your playground, I learned that girls could get taken to the principal’s office for playing tackle football too. Waymond taught me to two-step in your cafeteria. I got my first Valentine right here in this building. I learned what it was like to have real friends—with my classmates and their families–that have lasted me the last 25 years and for whom I will forever be grateful.
Tonight, as you prepare to go out into the world, I’d like to talk about a few things that this town has taught you. It’s easy to grow up in a small twin and only see what’s missing. No Starbucks. No movie theater. Heck, no stop light! But I’m here to tell you, what this town has given you is worth so much more than any of those things.
This town taught you to work hard. People here don’t have glamorous jobs. They don’t have high rise offices or power suits and that makes it easy to overlook what’s important. They work hard every single day. This country was built by people who quietly did their work, not expecting praise or attention. This town is full of who do their jobs well, who pay their bills on time, and who put their heads down and get things done.
People in this town keep the lights on in your house. They teach our children to read and write. They make sure people are fed, whether that’s raising cattle in a pasture or ringing up travelers at the Fast Stop. That type of consistent, hard work is more important than the fancy stuff any day. That’s a lesson you need to take with you when you leave. Remember that working hard and doing your best, whatever it is you are working in, matters.
This town taught you to love our country. This is of the best things about most small towns in the “fly over states.” Flags are everywhere: bumper stickers on cars, billboards, and front porches. I’m confident you’ve learned to support and appreciate our men and women in uniform. Men and women from right here in San Jon have fought and died to protect our freedoms and many of them are still serving today. That is something we can never take for granted.
Also, I hope you’ve learned that our nation isn’t as divided as our news outlets might lead us to believe. At the end of the day, I think we all have more in common than we have different, and you will do well to look for those commonalities as you leave here and go out into the world.
This town taught you to be part of a community. If you want to see community, just take a look at the Caprock on a night when San Jon has a basketball game out of town. It’s lit up like a Christmas tree with taillights of folks driving behind the bus to support you kids. Every year at Carnival, you guys gone together and make floats that rival the Rose Bowl. And for a kid who moved in here and left before graduation, I appreciate how you have always treated me as one of your own.
Community is something this town has never lacked, in good times and bad. I’ve stood in your cemetery more times than I’d like to remember. On blistering cold days and scorching hot afternoons when it felt like the world was crashing down around us and nothing could be right again. But you know what was present in every, single one of those horrible situations? Community. I’ve literally seen people in this gym hold each other up to sing Amazing Grace. And let’s not forget the casseroles. Oh, the casseroles. In times where words can’t be found, the women in this town feed you community with a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish. Not everyone grows up in a way that models this so well. You are fortunate, and it’s your responsibility to take that with you and implement it wherever it is you end up.
This town taught you to be kind. You hear horror stories about high school bullying. About how kids will gang up on one student who might be different and make his or her life miserable. I feel sure if ganging up happens here, it’s not on the side of the bully. Instead, you guys would shut that down. I’ve seen this school stand up for the little guy and to make sure that kids who were different were included as part of the team.
You remember that when you leave. The ability to look at people who may not have the same beliefs, background, ethnicity, intellectual abilities, voting record as you and still see them as people and treat them kindly…that may be the most important lesson any of us can learn.
Lastly, I sure hope this town taught you to dream big. If there is anything I worry that small towns might not do well enough, it’s teach our students to dream big, audacious dreams. Look around this school. For one of the smallest schools in New Mexico, there are an awful lot of FFA banners, State Championship trophies, Grand Champion Belt Buckles, and medals from events like the State Track Meet and FCCLA. There is a big world out there, and you need to know that you can do anything you put your mind to. Surround yourself with people who believe that too, who encourage you to dream bigger and do better. And you be ready to ignore anyone who tells you that for whatever reason, you’re not good enough.
I’m a big believer that everyone is on this earth for a purpose, and we need each of you to do your best to fulfill that purpose. Don’t sell yourself—or the world—short by dreaming small.
In closing tonight, I wish you each the best and ask you a favor. Take a few minutes. Think about the lessons you have learned here. Thank the people who taught them to you. And when you leave, take those lessons with you. Because if you ask me, the world needs a lot more of what this town taught you.