For today’s post, we feature the text of our 2013 Valedictorian speech, written and delivered by Ben Hoover. Ben’s words faithfully express the kind of eloquence and spiritual maturity we try to cultivate in our students at Cary Christian School.
I never, not for one second, thought I could be standing here as valedictorian of the incredibly talented, incredibly awesome, CCS class of 2013. In order to understand this, you have to understand who I was in sixth grade. In sixth grade, seniors, do you remember the Asian sitting in the corner, with his pants hiked up to my belly button, buttons buttoned all the way to the top, glasses, baby face, the buzz cut, with maybe a little too much fat around the belly? I was the kid who wouldn’t talk to you unless: one, you needed help with a math problem; or two, you shared my passion for Pokémon. Of course, time goes on, and soon I joined the football team, thanks primarily to the persuasion of one Mac Shelton. I grew my hair out for the first time in nine years. I lost the glasses in lieu of contacts. I slimmed down and lost the bit of belly fat around the midriff. I started sagging. But I was still super shy, not confident at all in who I was, and absolutely mortified of speaking in public. I was going through a time that most associate with teenage drama, and I associate with insecurity.
And then here I am today, standing in my graduation cap and gown, this shiny gold medal, and this really annoying tassel. I want to say, that without all of your encouragement, I could not be standing here today. All of you have made me who I am. All of you have shaped me and helped me grow. Seniors, I don’t think any of you realize how much of an influence you have had on my life, and I thank you. Teachers, I cannot thank you enough for your undying dedication to the growth and enrichment of us students and for setting yourselves as godly role models for us to follow, you have made me who I am. I thank you. And of course I can’t go without thanking my family, my parents and my sisters, who have had the most influence over me for the past 17, almost 18 years: I thank you so very much for making me who I am today. I thank you all, so very much, for your encouragement. None of it has gone unnoticed.
You know, it never had to be a large or flamboyant gesture. It could be as simple as giving me a pat on the back and saying, “Good luck,” as I came up here to give my speech. It could be as simple as giving me a smile in the hallways when you could just as easily have walked on with your busy life. It could be as simple as shaking my hand, making eye contact with me, and saying, “Well done.” Or maybe, it could be as simple as bringing me a dustpan when you saw me sweeping the classroom after lunch all by myself. I am who I am today because of you and your encouragement.
Seniors, you may find it odd that I chose the last day that we will ever be together as one senior class to talk about encouraging one another. Know that encouragement is something that extends beyond the bounds of high school and beyond those people sitting in rows all around you. You need to encourage in every relationship, every encounter you have over these next four years in college and in life beyond.
You have heard it said, many times now, probably, that you are going to miss these days. All of you will look back on this high school journey with some level of longing. Guys, we are about 45 minutes away from it being all over. What are you going to miss? I can answer that from my experience. I can tell you what I am going to miss. I can tell you what I miss already.
I am going to miss walking the hallways every class period, seeing familiar, smiling faces, giving pats on the back to those who are nervous about an upcoming test, messing around at the water fountain, sliding into my seat just as the bell is ringing with a smile on my face from a joke someone cracked at my expense in the hallway. I am going to miss staying at drama late every school day, chilling backstage with all of you, sharing stories, telling jokes, creating a bond that I will not let be severed today as we part at graduation. I am going to miss those hot, sweaty autumn afternoons every day, on the football field, with the football team, sacrificing myself for a team that is sacrificing themselves for me amidst the pain, the heat, the sweat, and Mr. Cook’s lame jokes. I am going to miss singing in that cramped, crowded, stuffy living room in front of the sweetest old lady you’ll ever meet, who has been struggling with cancer for the past three years. She’s looking up at us–her students from elementary school that she has watched grow over the past eight years–with the biggest darn smile as tears stream down her face as we sing the words, “At the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind. Walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.” Which, by the way, seniors, are words that speak directly to the situation we are now in.
Three of those four things that I just mentioned were things that happened daily for a long section of my high school and that characterized and defined my life over the past four years. I never gave much consideration to them until now, now that it is all over, now that I can look back and long to have them back. So this is my charge to you: until encouragement becomes part of the nostalgic monotony of the repetitively mundane; until encouragement becomes part of the daily routine that you look back and miss; until encouragement becomes something that you wake up every morning excited to do, you are not encouraging nearly enough.
I stand before you today as a living testimony to the power of faithful encouragement. I ask you, I plead with you, don’t be down on the weird or the socially awkward kid, the quiet or the small kid, because I used to be one of them. I used to be in their shoes. Without all of your encouragement, I could not be standing here right now. If with your words and actions you shove that kid into a corner, and then you keep him there with your lack of encouragement or by your ignoring his very existence, guess where he will end up in life? He will stay in that corner, and it is your fault. On the contrary, look for kids who are cowering in that corner. Bring them out. Slowly lure them out with small, repeated gestures of encouragement. You would be amazed at who you can find lurking beneath a mask of timid silence or awkward behavior. Maybe they were never offered the chance to become socially adept, because nobody would let them.
Now, I ask that all of you “Always consider how to stir one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24), “That through the encouragement and the endurance of Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4), and “That we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faiths, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). Love. Good Works. Scripture. Hope. Faith. These are the five most powerful tools of encouragement that you have at your disposal.
Friends, this is my encouragement to you tonight, and it is something that you heard those precious little kindergartners sing to you this morning. Always carry your candle into the darkness. Always shine this light that is here in the heart and soul of each and every one of you, and I know because I have seen glimpses of it from all of you, into the darkest corners of whatever college you are attending. Fellow seniors, I ask that you encourage me to do the same. Thank you all.