Write your own valedictory speech

Girl in grad dress with her grandfather
Grace with her grandfather at her graduation

A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of hearing Grace deliver the valedictory address at her grade 8 graduation. I am so proud of the beautiful, smart funny person she has become. But I was especially proud because of what she shared that night and how brave she was.

Her words were insightful. She reflected on her classmate’s accomplishments, and spoke with hope and optimism about the future. I think we all need to take a moment for this kind of reflection especially at important milestones in our lives.

This week’s #HappyAct is to write your own valedictory address. Reflect on your accomplishments and look ahead and envision your future. Here’s Grace’s speech.

Ladies and gentleman, fellow students. At this school, we come here for one reason and one reason only, and that is to learn. I have been at Prince Charles since I was in Junior Kindergarten and I’ve had my ups and downs, but overall, this school has helped me to find myself as well as my future.

Every person in this world is smart, whether it is sports, academics or leadership. Every person in this world is smart no matter how you describe it and I’m sure all the parents of the graduates are proud of what they have accomplished in life as a student as well as a person.

Tonight we are celebrating the first chapter in every graduate’s life. On our first day of high school next year we will be starting a new chapter, a new journey and a new way of life. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has made our first chapter incredible—parents, teachers, family, friends, principals, vice-principals and many more.

We have created so many memories in the first chapter. The one memory I’ll never forget is coming second in the girls basketball tournament a few years back. Even though we lost in the finals, we still worked together as a team and we had such a great day.

I can still remember when some of the graduates didn’t know how to tie their shoes and now they are maturing into adults. Even this year as a class, we have created so many memories, such as playing a good game of Dr. Dodgeball in class, our year-end field trip to Canada’s Wonderland or the St. Lawrence Cooking program that we participated in earlier this year. These are all memories that we will never forget.

We all have challenges that we need to face in life, but when we do face them, it makes us stronger, better people. When I was three, I was diagnosed with autism and I had a lot of trouble making friends when I was younger, but I dealt with it because we have to face our challenges in life.

Life is a path and we have to choose our own way. May you always choose the right path. Thank you.”

Copyright Grace Swinton 2016


Talk to strangers

Cartoon that says don't talk to strangers, don't talk to anyoneIf you read last week’s blog, you’ll know I was planting trees this past weekend. Hope you got your hands dirty too. One of the gentleman who was volunteering at Lemoine’s Point knee-deep in mud yesterday told me that his great great grandfather was a brick layer who came over from England. He had designed and built the portico in our Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.

We also got into an interesting conversation about physical education in our school’s system, and how children need daily exercise in order to focus and do well in school. He cited studies that showed students did dramatically better on math tests when they engaged in 60 minutes of exercise immediately before testing.

We go to school, take courses, attend workshops and conferences to learn, and yet one of the most easiest and free ways to learn is simply by talking to people.

Especially strangers. When you talk to a stranger, you are more likely to learn something new and see things from a whole new perspective.

Travelling is wonderful for this. When I travel, I always talk to the person sitting next to me. On recent flights, I’ve met a girl who worked for Mastercard who was a personal consultant to high net worth clients (she advised people with millions of dollars on how to get the most of their card purchases). One time I sat next to a songwriter from Nashville who was on his way to Chicago for a high school reunion. He had written songs for stars like Willy Nelson.

When I was in New Orleans this March, I had lunch at a diner style place (these places are great for single travelers who don’t want to eat alone) and met the priest from St. Louis Cathedral who told us what it was like to live in the middle of “bedlam” as he referred to living on the edge of Bourbon Street. My cab driver who drove me to the airport told me he had just signed up for Obamacare which led to an interesting discussion on health care in the United States. Even when I’m travelling to Toronto or Montreal on business on the train, I try to shut my laptop down for 20 minutes and talk to the person sitting next to me.

We can learn so much if we reach out and talk to people. This week’s Happy Act is to talk to a stranger. Strike up a conversation, ask about what they do, their family. I’d love to hear what you learned, so leave a comment and share your experience.

A special note to parents this week: One of my biggest pet peeves as a parent is when I hear another parent say to their kids “Don’t talk to strangers”. I remember years ago going out for Dave’s mother’s birthday for a family celebration to a restaurant in Burlington. Next to us, another family was celebrating a birthday. Dave’s Mom, who was around 65 at the time leaned across and said a few words to the young girl, and her mother hissed at her to not talk to strangers. Dave’s Mom was crushed.

Do we really want to teach our children not to talk to other people? I get the safety thing, but there is a HUGE difference in engaging in polite, idle conversation with people, and getting in a car and going somewhere with them. We’ve taught our children the difference, and things like code words to keep them safe. But telling them not to engage with others and learn from others is so terribly sad. If you have young children, I beg of you, please banish this phrase from your vocabulary.