Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For the Mom who Sent me a Letter...

John's mom sent me this upon request. I try to help others...she really helps me.

John's Valedictorian Speech (it was even more impressive to hear him deliver it - I can't watch the video without both laughing and crying) -

...Good evening, fellow graduates, administrators, faculty and staff, family members and friends of the Class of 2009. It is an honor to speak here tonight on this momentous occasion, and I congratulate the students for having made it this far.

Tonight is a big turning point for all of us. As we leave behind our beloved high school for good, I think it appropriate to reflect back on some of the most important things that I’ve learned. While it might not be the same for everyone, my own path has led me to the following conclusions that serve me well.

The first is this: everybody has something to overcome. No one gets off the hook when life hands out its challenges. For some, that hurdle isn’t always clearly defined or easily recognized. When you listen to some of Def Leppard’s songs, there’s no way to tell that the drummer, Rick Allen, only has one arm, having lost the left one in a car accident. Only after learning this detail can you truly begin to appreciate his skill and talent. Other people have their own burdens to deal with, from racial discrimination to economic strain to physical or mental limitations, and much more.

With me, it’s easy to tell what my hurdle was – I’m deaf.

But the most important thing to remember is that when you judge people around you, there is always more to them than meets the eye. No one can be put in a box, no matter how hard you try. You may be surprised when that person demonstrates extraordinary character, just as everyone was amazed when Rick Allen came back from his accident to help release Def Leppard’s most successful album.

This leads to another conclusion:

Focus on what you can do, and not on what you can’t.

This is akin to maintaining a healthy optimism. It’s the only way to truly succeed, in little ways and big. One example I’d like to call attention to is that of Gene Simmons. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, he was and still is the bass guitarist for the rock band Kiss. Now, not to offend any devout fans here, but in terms of musical genius and talent, Kiss is not the greatest band. Yet they were a sensational hit in the 1970s and 80s. Why? Because Gene Simmons realized that his abnormally long tongue, one that could stretch beyond the point of his chin, in addition to stage makeup and antics such as flaming guitars, attracted a solid fan base that filled seats at concerts. Despite his lack of musical talent, Gene Simmons helped make Kiss tremendously successful. While this may seem a little unorthodox, it’s a lesson worth learning.

When I was first diagnosed with my hearing loss, many experts told my parents that it would be best to learn sign language and to forget about trying to talk. I have my parents to thank for their perseverance – they refused to give in and found others who were willing to focus on my abilities, rather than my disability. I started learning to speak at the age of four, but from there I took language and flew with it, and now I’m here speaking to you today. It’s a somewhat ironic outcome when you consider the beginning. That’s how I personally know that focusing on your capabilities, rather than the things that could hold you back, will pull you through anything.

Inevitably, though, there comes a time where you can’t do it by yourself. An important tenet of success is not to be afraid to ask for help. Bon Jovi was and is a huge worldwide musical success, having sold more than 120 million albums. But they really didn’t take off until their third album, Slippery When Wet. What separated that album from the first two was that Bon Jovi enlisted the help of a songwriter named Desmond Child in writing their next batch of songs. The result? Overwhelming success. Clearly, the help of a single person made all the difference.

For me, I know without a doubt that I wouldn’t have had the chance to stand here and speak today if it hadn’t been for the help of others:

my parents, of course, my sisters, my entourage of hearing and speech professionals, including Kenmar Alexander, Cindy Sadonis, Stephanie Garber, Suzette Wolfe, Deb Hildebrand, and Amber Gardner, all my teachers over the years for their support, most notably Sara Vines, Terry Mattson, and Laura Stump, and all the others who influenced and shaped me as I made my way to this point. They are many. And I owe all of them a lot.

There’s this quote from track I like that I think applies here: “You didn’t prove the many who thought you couldn’t - wrong; you proved the few who thought you could- right.”

I’m proud that I was able to fulfill all those people’s efforts and dedication – it makes the struggle worth every bit. I can say with certainty, don’t hesitate to ask for help. And don’t hesitate to help others as you leave Stuarts Draft High School, because you never know what that person could end up achieving.

Finally, I’d like to encourage each of you to have faith.

To have faith in yourself, to be able to rely on and trust others, and to be willing to place yourself completely in God’s hands are essential for your wellbeing, your successes, and your happiness in the life ahead of you. Remember from the book of Mark, Chapter 10, Verse 27: “With God, all things are possible.”

Thank you, congratulations once more, and good luck, Class of 2009.


melanie said...

I just want to let you know that I your mom and I must have a lot in common. I too have a son that got his cochlear implant at the age of 4 years. He graduated with honors in 2006. He played high school baseball and went on to play baseball in college. He is in his third year at a Christian college in Tampa FL. He favorite verse is the same as yours. Congratulations and keep on with the CAN DO attitude.

VBnBama said...

love this story, is he not adorable? Go John!