james_xu (晓鸣)
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Valedictory Address
(Don Mills Collegiate Institute, October 2005)

There are a few different kinds of journeys.

Ninety-two years ago today, a guy named Henry Ford started on a journey when he began to build cars entirely on an assembly line. For the first time, each new car would pass through the hands of dozens of workers, each of whom would contribute in some way to the final product. For the automobile industry, it was a journey in manufacturing time from twelve and a half hours to a mere 93 minutes. For Mr. Ford, it was a journey from small business owner to fame and fortune. For the world, it was also a journey, one from the farms and haystacks of the countryside to the skyscrapers and factories of the new cities.

But today, we are here on behalf of another journey—the journey that was Don Mills: the journey that led us through these doors, into the classrooms, and finally, to this room today. In four years we, too, have taken a journey through the work of many hands. Our journey has led us from class to class, teacher to teacher. Along the way, we have picked up small pieces of wisdom; the wisdom of science, the wisdom of art, the wisdom of philosophy... the wisdom of writing essays the morning before they're due. That was not a joke, that was solid, indisputable fact. One way or another, these pieces of wisdom have changed us all. We entered, little more than children. We leave as very big, very mature, children.

Graduates, parents, teachers, friends, welcome to Commencement 2005.

(The diplomas we receive today represent a destination. The sheet of paper says to us, “You did it.” But we don't need a diploma to tell us we spent four years at Don Mills. We know the destination because we remember the journey, a journey that brought us together from around the world. Nor is the journey over. From here, our feet, after walking for a while side by side in these halls, will once again diverge. But even as we walk back into the far reaches of the world, our time together will not have been in vain. We have spent a few years as Don Mills students. We will spend eternity as Don Mills alumni. This is a bond of a journey, a bond that, from this day forth, is invincible to the forces of time and space. Such is the power of a journey.)

It has been a journey from September to June to September again, a journey from high school orientation to a personal party thrown by a man named Jimmy Wei. And Jimmy, Mr. President, I might have had a headache afterwards—from sleep deprivation, of course—but it was still a heckuva party.

It has been a journey from algorithm to alliteration, from cafeteria food to McDonalds to Tim Horton’s. But even though our hot dog stand has been crushed by the wheels of history, we might still rally to the cry of, “hot dog! Hot dog!” in the years to come.

Some of us will learn to become businessmen, tradesmen, professionals. Others, lawyers. A few of us want to become doctors. That may, or may not, be an understatement. Wherever your journeys take you, don't forget your rear-view mirror. Every one of us needs someone to talk to, someone to fall back on, someone to pick us up when we fall. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Look back. Your high school friends may be closer than they appear.

We are in a ceremony of commencement. As the word suggests, commencement is not the finish line, but the starting pistol. This is not the end, no more than it is a destination. It's not the end for the friendships we have made, or the dreams we have clung on to, or the journey we have taken together. In the words of Roosevelt, it is not even the beginning of the end. What commencement is perhaps, is the end of our beginning.

If I have advice to give, then here it is: live and love. Whether you’re sitting in a lecture hall, working at a summer job or making a 15-hour commute to your high school, do it because, at this very moment, there is absolutely nothing else you would rather do. If life is a journey, then none of us know when or where our destination might be. But how you’re going to get there is your own choice, and yours alone. Fill your life with love, and love the life you lead. Because we make this journey whether we want to or not, we choose to want to make this journey. We choose to make this journey count, we choose to make this journey great, we choose to make this journey our own, personal, lifetime work of art.

Today, gathered here to celebrate the Friday before Thanksgiving weekend, it is possible that one or two of us also expect to get a diploma. To those lucky few, a diploma means they have forgotten to do homework in at least thirty different classes, and that the community owes them no fewer than forty hours of unpaid labor. But that is not all a diploma means. From extensive research on dictionary.com, we now know that the word diploma means not only forgotten homework and unpaid labor but, from its ancient Greek roots, folded paper. So to those of you who are holding pieces of folded paper, congratulations. Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that my diploma was not folded today, but only rolled up and tied with ribbon. Well, the journey was worth it.

Now, having climbed this mountain together, we stand at its peak and see the world, with all its limitless possibilities, spread out before our feet—the world that will soon be passed onto us. It is a changing world—politically, economically, technologically. We are changing people. We are ready to receive this world; whether the world is ready for us, let us journey forth and see for ourselves. Good luck, and Godspeed.
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2006-1-11 -05:00
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