<<Years later, don’t want to say how many, I was invited to my high school to deliver a talk as part of a panel, on what to do with your life, and how to be. Four people on the panel, including me. I had notes on cue cards, six points that I wanted to get across. Had the cards folded in my pocket, kept worrying that I’d lost them. Wouldn’t that have been a thing… the other three panelists went first, Tina and Chris and Andy. I won’t use their last names, but one is pretty famous. After they were done, I was up. Someone taped the session, and it’s possible to find it online if you look really hard. I transcribed it, word for word. Took out the ‘um’s and ‘ah’s, but the rest is original>>
“Well, I don’t know how to follow my fellow panelists. I went to high school with two of them, in the same year. The other one started a year before me. It’s good to see them again, but I don’t know how to follow them.
I had a talk figured out, but listening to the other panelists, it’s pretty clear that I’m not nearly as successful as them. I don’t have my own business, I definitely haven’t retired already, and I’m sure not a celebrity. It’s ridiculous to follow them up with someone like me. I’m sorry, but I don’t know why I’m standing here talking to the eighty or ninety of you that are going to graduate in June. I really don’t.
How do you follow up people like this, when you’re just you?
Fact is, I was a fucking loser in high school. I was fat, a minority, didn’t drink, didn’t dress well. Couldn’t even do my hair properly. I was a mess, and irrelevant. That’s right, I was an irrelevant human being, and people like the other panelists would have ignored me completely. They did ignore me completely. And that really hurt. It just burned. Back then, it was hopeless, but when I got out of this high school, it gnawed at me. Made me angry, and I’ll tell you, I used every bit of that anger to push me forward. There are so many things I can trace in my life to how much of a nobody I was in high school.
Unpopular in University? Fuck it, I will nudge my way into the cool circles. Hate getting up and talking in front of people? Forget it, I’ll take that challenge and go at it. Your past is like fuel. It keeps you going, still keeps me going, even though I’m not nearly as successful as the other panelists.
I can’t change now. This thing that I was in high school, this ignored, stupid creature… it’s always going to be driving me. I’ll never get away from it, and as much as it’s pushed me forward, trying to prove myself all the time, it’s not healthy. No, it’s bullshit. My motivation in life is anger and rage, and that’s just horseshit. I’m sorry I’m talking to you like this, but I want to be honest. None of this is any good, and I really hope that not a single one of you end up like me. Because some of you are fucking losers just the way I was, and you’re probably feeling the same nothingness that I did, and I’ll tell you: that nothingness becomes rage pretty quickly, and it’ll consume you the rest of your life.
Wish I could start again, but I can’t. If I could, I’d let it go. I’d be proud of who I am. And I sure as hell would look to connect with other people. Do you have any idea how much better the world would be if we just connected? Can you imagine if the rich kids, the popular kids, just took ten fucking seconds out of their life to talk to the losers, and vice versa? What’s stopping you from doing that?
God I’m so negative. Being here, in this place, in the shadow of my fellow panelists, it’s like being a fucking loser all over again, all the same hurts, the same pain, the same questions: why aren’t I better, why was I born in this way, not some other? I knew I wasn’t worthless back then, but that’s how I felt anyway. Looking back, I just want to scream. I want to scream right now, at all of you teenagers, and at these panelists, too.
But I don’t want to be negative. I want to say something helpful. So here it goes. Don’t end up like my fellow panelists. Don’t end up serious, corporate, and hungry for some money-based version of success. Don’t be so well-dressed and dour. And for God’s sake, don’t end up like me, either. I have no motivation really, other than some asshole I used to be. That’s no way to live.
Try to be better than us. We need that.
Go outside in the hallway after this wonderful motivational speech, and talk to someone you’ve never talked to before. Doesn’t matter why you didn’t talk to them before, just do it now. Sit down next to someone at lunch and have a conversation, figure out who they are. Bring one bit of kindness to them. Just one. That can make all the difference. Think about people, and how to be good to them. Hell, think about this planet and how to be good to it. And when people tell you that money makes all the difference, run away. We live in the western world. We are beyond privileged. With a little bit of effort, we’ll all be okay. We’re going to be fine, so don’t worry so much about money. And for God’s sake, if someone looks different than you, just please don’t let it be a big deal. If they’re fat, hairy, smell bad, have a different skin color, stutter like crazy, walk with a limp, have moles all over their face, have English as a second language, have mental health issues, have developmental issues, or are just weird. You know? Just weird people, wired that way for no reason anyone can say, there are lots and lots of those, why treat them any different? Just be fair to them. Just let them in.
That’s all I have to say. I’m so sorry for talking like this. I don’t know how else to do this. I hate that we’re like this. I hate that I’m back here, trying to tell you all how to live your lives, when honestly, you should all probably be telling us how we should have lived ours. So go back at it. Try to be good. Try to be human. Remember that what you do has an impact, and so does everything you don’t do. Thank you. And sorry again.”
<<the aftermath was silence. Two of the panelists left the room immediately. I would have loved to connect with them, maybe apologize for… something. I don’t know. I just stood there, staring at everyone. When the kids started cheering, it lasted for like ten minutes. That almost broke me. People asked me questions after that, came over to talk to me, and don’t you know that it was just the most meaningful thing I’ve been through in years, like a type of warmth I always knew existed, but hadn’t really come across like that. And maybe all that meant was, it’s not just rage and anger that pushes me along. Maybe there is something else, too, and maybe there always has been>>