Guest opinion: Address to C-SD Class of 2020

Screen Shot from YouTube
Cambridge-South Dorchester High School alumnus John Handley gave this year’s commencement address on June 5.

Hello, and thank you Talayasia [Young, Senior Class President], that was incredibly kind, and you should be proud that you are the President of the amazing, dare I say it legendary, Cambridge-South Dorchester class of 2020.
My name is John Handley. I am only here because Oprah had a last minute booking for the Tonight Show and Anthony Fauci is busy searching for a cure for COVID.

I promise not to take a lot of your time, but I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to celebrate this amazing night with you! From one Viking to another, congratulations, you have done it, you have graduated high school, and no one can ever take that away.
It has always been one of my dreams to be a commencement speaker at C-SD. I know some of you probably think that is ridiculous, but truly, this is a high honor for me.

I imagined getting up on stage in front of familiar faces in a gym that was way too hot even though the AC was blasting, listening to all the proud mamas who keep screaming and clapping even though some teacher, I’m talking to you Mr. Horsey, keeps telling them to quiet down. Most of all, I imagined being able to see how incredibly proud each of you would be as you received your diploma and I would remember when my friends and I sat right there and did the same.

That’s not quite how this is, is it? Let’s be honest. None of this is how any of us had planned. Some might even say you have been dealt a bad hand. Your graduation is remote, your time with friends has been cut short, no senior class play, no senior season of sports, and as you are stuck at home, things are not much better.
A plague endangers us while we witness yet again the pains of racial injustice. It may feel that the weight of reality has gotten the jump on you, and that the oppression is here to stay.

I say no
What you are experiencing now is a beginning; it is life on the cusp of a new dawn. Together our great minds are using science to develop a cure for this wretched disease and other diseases like cancer and diabetes. When we turn on the TV and see people in the streets, we are not witnessing oppression, no, far from it.
We are seeing freedom. Look and you will see people of all ages and colors, along with police officers and politicians saying, “We have had enough” and, “There is a better way.” While some claim that white and black and policeman and civilian are more divided than they ever have been, I say no. I see a great joining in a common cause to ensure that all citizens have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And as I witness this new beginning, I see the Cambridge-South Dorchester Class of 2020. You are emerging from a chrysalis, to be the change that this world needs and is expecting.
Yes, I know that you did not get to experience the same things that classes before you did, but that is because you are not like them. You are different. You are the class of 2020, the class that can change this world.

As you go out into this world, please let me remind you of where you are from, you are graduating from Dorchester County. Sometimes I know that that may not feel like a lot or maybe you think that it is not meaningful, but you stand on the backs of giants.
You come from one of the oldest European communities in the United States. Freedom fighters like Harriet Tubman and Gloria Richardson were born here determined not to leave it the way they found it.

Dorchester begot six governors, one of whom, “Holliday Hicks” singlehandedly kept the state from seceding, dramatically changing the dynamics of the Civil War in favor of the Union. There are also masters of their crafts, the great writer John Barth or the ship builder Jim Richardson.
Come visit me in Annapolis and see the name Senator Fred Malkus plastered on all the walls. Ask your parents about Art Reinkwitz or Doug Fleetwood. Or Antwan Lake and Mr. Batson.

Our ancestors have been sharpened by working the rivers and plowing the fields and by volunteering and investing our community for centuries. You may not realize to what extent, but you have been forged from the pain of protest and riots that many or our parents and grandparents remember.

From greatness
You come from greatness, you come from experience.
Of course in preparation for this speech I did the most stereotypical thing someone in my position does, and that is to find some quote from some vaguely recognizable person we may have heard mentioned in history class. I went to my book of classic American Speeches and was drawn to the famous “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech given by Patrick Henry to the convention of Delegates in Virginia 1775. As I read, I could move past one line and that line was this:
“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of my experience.”

As I reflected on why that phrase kept replaying in my head, I finally realized what was bothering me, and that is: It is completely wrong.
As you have walked through life to this point, it feels like you have had one lamp, your lamp, illuminating your pathway, fueled by good and bad experiences. Sometimes that light is so dim you can’t see, other times it is so bright you forget that there ever was any darkness. That feeling is wrong.
Your path has been illuminated by the light radiating from the lamps of those around you. Every single day you have walked in the light of other’s experiences allowing you to grow into the amazing person you are.

There have been the lamps of teachers giving you knowledge and wisdom through their hours of unseen preparation. You receive light from your parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, and loved ones.
You may not realize it but you have walked in the light of this community, drenched in the rich illumination of the experiences of the generations that came before. Each and every person who has affected you has allowed you to use some of their light so that you can put one foot in front of the other.

Think about it, think about who you are because of “others.” Yes, you worked incredibly hard, and have crossed the finish line of a race that started 12 years ago. But please for a second, stop, turn around, and look at the lanterns that have lit your path to this moment.
That being said, now is the time for celebration! This is truly a momentous occasion in your life, an occasion and celebration that you deserve and is eternally yours. We, the great community that surrounds you, congratulate each and every one of you for your accomplishment.
Now go into the world in peace, to pick up your lantern and shed your light on someone else’s path, for you are the class that is different than all others, you are the Cambridge-South Dorchester Class of 2020.
Pump it up, go Vikings, thank you very much.

John Handley is a 2010 graduate of Cambridge-South Dorchester High School and a graduate from the University of Maryland, where he received his degree in Government and Politics with a minor in Philosophy. He is currently the Legislative Director for Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot where he advocates for good government, transparency and fiscal responsibility. He currently resides in Annapolis but considers Cambridge and the chicken farm where he grew up his home.

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