Commencement Address

 The call went out sometime in May 1970 from the speech and debate teacher, Joyce Benner, for all of the fifty or so students on the honor roll to audition for commencement speaker.  The theme of graduation was Speak To One Another which the speech was to reflect upon in some way.  Three of us showed up that day in her room: Jon Cox who was in speech and debate already, Dan Feller who was near the top of the class, and me.  They both gave great speeches, and when I finished mine, Ms Benner stated my delivery needed a lot of work even though she liked the text.  She coached me after school in the days leading up to graduation, and the images of my original pages posted elsewhere on here (due to technical difficulties on this website, the original document will post at a later date, stay tuned) show the cue marks I made from her instructions.   Those are the very pages I took to the stadium podium on the night of 5 June 1970. 
Neither the valedictorian nor the salutorian from our class came to audition, so that is why none of us who spoke were identified on the program that evening as such.  If only I had been the valedictorian. . .maybe my life would have turned out differently. 
For no good reason, I have kept those original papers which I had typed on my dad's old Royal manual machine all those years ago.  No one helped me write it, and no one suggested any changes.  Some of my friends urged me to depart from the text during the live event and attack the administration and "the establishment."  While I never seriously entertained the idea, I might have allowed the rumor to circulate that there could be some parting shots!    My memory of actually delivering it to the assembled thousands wearing my maroon gown is hazy and ephemeral. 
By contrast, the four minutes I was granted by the Reunion Committee to speak my words again forty years later will stay with me forever.  The compliments you paid me in person and to my reunion profile page are deeply gratifying.

Speak To One Another
written by
D. Thomas Higgins Jr.
May 1970
 
Tonight, five hundred and thirty four of us have come so much closer to becoming the leaders of tomorrow; a tomorrow that's seemed so far away. But it has suddnely taken a great step--a terrifying step--towards us this evening. The world and its problems will be upon our shoulders before we know it, and probably before we feel that we're ready to accept them.
We have to be able to take our place among the earth's billions of people. We have to be able to solve our own problems without creating other problems for our fellow human beings. We have to respect their rights if we expect them to honor ours. We must be able to effectively speak to one another if we wish to accomplish these things. We must not become dictators; nor should we become puppets. And now with seventeen years of this life behind us, we must begin to deal honorably, respectfully and as unerringly as is humanly possible with the billions of mankind with whom we share this planet. 
Are we ready? Do we have the capabilities of speaking, communicating peacefully and meaningfully with one another? Whether we can meet this challenge or not, we are going to have to do it. But it will not be so impossible as it seems. For the work of the administrative assistants, the counselors, Mr White, Mr Schooland and the one hundred plus teachers has added up over the four years to produce in each of us the potential to make this world safe and enjoyable for all. We do not get this kind of education from books. If we could be educated this way, we would have computers and automated devices to read to us. But computers and televisions and tape recorders do not make up the world's population. The most complex machine of all, the homo sapien, is the machine we must come to know best. The people who have lectured and tested and corrected and recorded have done so for our benefit. And have been so much more effective than any automated device.  
Now is the time to start drawing upon our experiences and begin making countless decisions. It is also time for us to abide by those judgments, to suffer their consequences. If we can effectively, practically and discreetly implement those ideas and theories we have learned from our teachers and fellow students, we will be on the road towards achieving meaningful communication with the members of our society. The importance of this harmonious co-existence--not gruding tolerance, but humanitarian interest in the well being of our fellow man--is such that it cannot take second place to any other goal we may set.
How can we hope to meet the threat of an atomic global conflict if we cannot turn to our neighbors and respect them for what they are, no matter what their economic, racial or religous background? How can we tell another country with a different culture how to operate if we cannot resolve petty disagreements within our own families? 
We have no choice but to learn to speak to one another; to listen to one another. Not of carols and anthems as the song says but of ideology and philosophy. It is our responsibility now to reflect upon the books we've read, the papers we've written, the lectures and conferences we've had-- to wake up to this world, to its instantaneous electronic communciation. Our problems with our fellow men must be met head on. We cannot escape into the wilds of nature or into artificially induced illusions. 
The challenge facing us and the millions of others of our generation is to come together; not for the purpose of aligning against others of different views and practices, but rather for the sake of everyone's well being.   We leave West High tonight with a feeling of deep gratitude, and we look forward to tomorrow with self confidence; knowing that we have the potential to create meaningful ties of communication with each other. This potential must be realized. We must now begin to speak to one another.