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Tribute to Parents

On this occasion, the students who are here should take pride in their achievements, as should their parents. The number of adults present this morning attests to parents’ involvement in their children’s’ education. We all know how instrumental our parents have been in our academic development. By teaching us to value education and by encouraging us to stick to it even when things get tough, our parents have given us a foundation to be good students. If we have learned from them to appreciate being challenged and seeing the results of our effort and dedication, then we will surely be successful in school and in many other areas of our lives.

But we all know this. And most of us also know that there comes a point in our high school careers at which we realize that our motivation to do well in school must come from within ourselves, and not merely from our parents’ exhortations. During this time of life we are stretching ourselves in many directions, trying to discover what things are important to us, beginning to set meaningful goals for ourselves, and making decisions that will shape our futures. [The performance by the Jazz combo and the list of other activities that Mr. ------ announced earlier are evidence of a few organizations and causes those students become involved in]. There is a great deal of pressure on teenagers and much of it centers on schoolwork and grades. By the time we’ve finished one quarter of high school and made it to this ceremony, we know how important grades are.

Here is where we see the most crucial responsibility of parents: to let their teenagers know that they are worth more than their GPA. To encourage them to grow as young adults. To allow them to make their own choices and to support them in their decisions. To emphasize the importance of learning for the sake of learning rather than worrying about getting the A. The measure of our success is not printed on a report card; it is printed on our character, our work ethic, and our willingness to take risks on our path to self-discovery.

It is not to say that parents should stop encouraging their children to do well in school; only that parents should also remind us of the big picture. Our parents help us gain confidence in ourselves by encouraging us to try new things and pursue our interests even if it means failure at first. The most important thing our parents do is to love us for who we are, not what grades we earn. For this continuous, unconditional love and support, we thank you.


Context

In the fall of my eleventh grade year I was asked to write and present a brief speech at my school’s honor roll breakfast. After I agreed, I learned that the speech needed to be a Tribute to Parents. At the time I sharply resented my aunt, who had given me a hard time when I brought home a B that quarter (I still made the honor roll, mind you), lecturing me at great length about how if I wanted to get into a good college and succeed, I needed to work harder, and that Bs weren’t acceptable. I was frustrated because the B was in US History, which was taught by a man whose idea of teaching is assigning weekly presidential outlines (sooooo much busywork) and giving multiple-choice book tests that required students to recall phrases from the text but did not require any synthesis of the material or thinking or writing ability. I didn’t do well on the tests, and I couldn’t submit to his insistence that we sacrifice style for formula on our presidential evaluation essays. My aunt, a professor of early American History, was upset that I was being turned off to her favorite subject because my high school teacher was incompetent (Oh, I hope he doesn’t read this—I have nothing against the man, I just didn’t appreciate his teaching style. Though I must confess that it paid off for the AP exam. But still…). But he was no excuse for my failure to get an A--it’s my responsibility to keep my grades up, my aunt went on, so whenever I engaged in any activity other than homework for the few weeks after report cards came home, I was interrogated and harassed. (Let me avoid comment on my aunt’s concept of Parenting skills here, since that would just be too much of a digression.) With this background information, it may be easy to recognize this as a classic fuck-you speech directed at my aunt (not that I told her about the ceremony or ever showed the speech to her, though I think she saw it later in the school newspaper and probably read it thinking that I was sincerely praising her, which is fine.) The amusing part of the ceremony was delivering the speech in the presence of all the parents who thought I was the most considerate teenager and all the kids who rolled their eyes at my brown-nosing ability, while avoiding eye contact with Meg, the only person in the audience who knew the true meaning of my words, to prevent the two of us from breaking into laughter. Ahhh...truly a satisfying experience. After that ceremony, I forgave my aunt completely, and of course in hindsight I know that she wasn’t being as much of a hard-ass as I’d perceived, and that she was right when she insisted that I could get an A if I applied myself, and that her constant nagging—I mean, encouragement—forced me to discipline myself, which has been and will continue to be essential in my courses and life in general. I can now, a year and a college acceptance letter later, take the mature approach and thank her. But subtle yet visceral vindication releases emotional stress in a healthy, constructive way, and is it ever sweet!

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