This article is one in a series at The 74 which profiles the heroes, victories, success stories and random acts of kindness to be found at schools all across America. Read more of our recent inspiring profiles at The74million.org/series/inspiring.
It happens every June — an uplifting, emotional graduation speech goes viral on Facebook. This year, though, the trending queue just keeps growing: There’s the middle schooler who used his speech to perform impressions of the major presidential candidates; Donovan Livingston’s powerful speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and, of course, Sheryl Sandberg’s moving remarks at UC Berkeley’s commencement, as she explained how she learned to choose joy and meaning after her husband’s sudden death in 2015.
Over the last month, we’ve also come upon a handful of high school graduation speeches that we just can’t stop talking about. We thought we’d share a couple with you:
Musco was diagnosed with autism at three years old. His parents were told that he would decline quickly into a vegetative state. That prediction never came true, but learning was difficult for Musco. His speech and motor skills took much longer to develop than the average student, and he was bullied for being different as a result. But Musco didn’t give in to his label — or his bullies. Instead, he set out on a course to prove everyone wrong. At a baccalaureate ceremony, Musco did just that by giving an eloquent speech advocating a theme of endurance:
Texas’ Larissa Martinez: A young woman at McKinney Boyd High shocks the country by proclaiming her status as an undocumented immigrant
The 2016 Class President started off with tweaking the first line, singing, “Hello, it’s me. Congratulations to the graduating class of 2016.” He then pleaded with his parents to pay for his college tuition. Shikoff plans to attend Penn State in the fall:
Martinez was just eight years old when his father was incarcerated. He said he put on a brave face for his family but felt lost inside. He came to believe that some dreams were not made for real life. He felt the odds were stacked against him and others like him, telling the audience, “Statistics and ‘reality’ predetermined it was not realistic for us to be standing before you educated, healthy, alive and with post-secondary plans.” Watch as Martinez explains how his school gave him the courage to dream again:
Barber used a humorous approach to get his message across: “Jesus preached it, Shakespeare wrote about it but famed vampire hunter Abraham Lincoln summed it up best when he said ‘Don’t be a jack wagon.’” Examples of jack wagonry, according to Barber, include bullying, rudeness, selfishness and impatience. He offered up the antidote to such behavior: kindness. “If we can learn to be genuinely kind and patient with each other, I think everything’s gonna be better,” Barber told his fellow graduates.
When Mysore was in third grade, she was quiet. It wasn’t because she was shy or an introvert. She believed that she had nothing worthwhile to say. Over time that fear has transformed into confidence. In high school, Mysore realized there were many ways to exhibit self-expression from academics to sports to the arts. She hopes they will continue to do so, saying, “I hope that you will find new things to say and better things to say.” Watch Mysore go on to explain how she believes empathy is what gives people power: