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1988: My Valedictorian Speech by ObstacleChick


A guest post by ObstacleChick

Recently, I found this essay among my late mother’s things. My grandmother had saved it with a cover sheet that said:

“Keep! (ObstacleChick)’s valedictorian speech at senior high graduation at (fundamentalist evangelical) Christian Academy, May, 1988”

It took me three weeks to summon enough courage to read this essay, as I knew it would be antithetical to what I believe today. I recall that my goal with this speech was to display my superior intellect before my peers and their parents and to present something that would be approved by faculty. These are my words as a Christian-school educated student (grades 5-12) who used education as a means to gain admittance into a top secular university. I believed these words at the time, and I considered myself superior to the vast majority of my peers whom I considered babies drinking the pablum of popular culture. While today I cringe at my parroting of the culture war indoctrination of my church and school, I am starkly aware of what was missing. Can you see it? This was a speech that I was required to submit to the English teacher and school administration for approval, and it was returned to me with no edits. Please feel free to comment. I’m just going to sit over here and cringe a little more at the 18-year-old I was trained to be 31 years ago.

Valedictorian Address

It is often stated that society changes but people do not. This statement is true in the sense that the inner qualities of man remain the same from generation to generation. However, this statement should be expanded to include the fact that society, created by previous generations, affects those who live within it. Although it is difficult to characterize an entire generation, it is evident that young people, as influenced by society, are becoming increasingly insecure and pessimistic, and unless this trend is reversed, the future will not be very promising.

One reason for the condition of young people is the breakdown of the family unit. The parents of a child are to be responsible for nurturing their child so that he is able to become the best that he can be mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. Parents are also a source of security and encouragement for a child. It is also apparent that parents serve as role models for their children; since children, especially very young ones, are so inexperienced in life, they naturally imitate their parents, or the people to whom they are closest. Therefore, it is evident that parents play a very important role in the rearing of a child.

Unfortunately, many children do not have both parents, and in some cases, if both parents are present, there is so much unrest and disunity in the family that the children are not given the proper nurturing they need. Many children experience the pain and uncertainty of being torn between two parents who proceed to separate or divorce. Often, children become mere objects of which each parent struggles to gain custody. In cases in which the parents remain together, there is either disunity between them, or the parents simply do not have the time nor the desire to give the children the nurturing and attention they need. Therefore, the children become psychologically scarred and unprepared to fulfill their duties as members of society.

In addition to children who are products of broken families or families in which the parents do not fulfill their parental responsibilities, there are also children who desire to rebel against their parents and the values of their parents. There are many reasons for this desire to rebel, but the main reason seems to be the encouragement of the media and peers. The media present a certain image of what is and is not acceptable in order to be the “average” teenager. This standard invariably includes the characteristic of rebellion which often naturally occurs as a child begins to grow into adulthood and yearns for independence from parental authority. Since young people fear the insecurity of individuality — in other words, nonconformity to the “acceptable norm” — they eagerly imitate any image they see that offers an opportunity to “fit in” with what is acceptable to their peers, who can be cruelly intolerant of anyone who does not conform.

Today’s society is permeated with young people who are products of their inadequate family lives or their desire to rebel. In both cases, these children seek attention which they do not receive or do not accept from home. Therefore, they naturally seek it elsewhere. Unfortunately, they seek it from a world containing too many problems to deal effectively with those of neglected or rebellious young people whose unguided and uncontrolled presence only contributes to the growing problems of society.

Another reason for the condition of young people is the effects of society upon them. The world offers many deceptively appealing yet ultimately harmful attractions for which these young people, seeking security and a sense of well-being, eagerly grasp. These attractions assume many forms, a few of which are rock music, premarital sex, and drug and alcohol usage. All of these enticements, perhaps with the exception of rock music, previously were primarily presented to adults but are now forced upon adolescents who are not prepared to handle these harmful attractions. As a result, young people participating in these activities are injured mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically.

Because it is the attraction in which most young people openly participate without a great deal of parental interference, one must first examine rock music. Many believe that this music is harmless, merely a characteristic phase through which the majority of youths pass on the way to adulthood. It is viewed as a trend that has benignly existed for the past thirty years and will probably continue as a part of being a youth. Upon closer examination, one is able to realize the adverse effects this music has upon the bodies, minds, and emotions of youths.

Music is an important part of the lives of most people. It is used as a means through which to express emotion or even to produce a specific emotion. Music is also a means by which people celebrate worship. Allan Bloom in his work The Closing of the American Mind defines music as such:

“Plato’s teaching about music is, put simply, that rhythm and melody, accompanied by dance, are the barbarous expression of the soul. Barbarous, not animal. Music is the medium of the human soul in its most ecstatic condition of wonder and terror….Music is the soul’s primitive and primary speech (p. 71).”

Therefore, it is evident that music is an important device through which man is able to express himself.

Since rock music is not just one specific type of music but is characterized by various forms and names, it is difficult to specifically define. However, its lyrics primarily contain three major themes — sex, hate, and a hypocritical version of brotherly love (p. 74). Its rhythm, as young people are aware, has the beat of sexual intercourse (p. 73). Because one naturally responds physically and emotionally to the rhythms and lyrics of music, young people listening to rock music begin to unconsciously respond to its presentation of uncontrolled and misrepresented sex. Through rock music, young people are made aware of subjects which they are too immature to fully understand and experience. Therefore, they view a normal part of life in a perverted and immature manner.

Rock music exalts premarital (and extramarital) sex as well as drug and alcohol use as being socially acceptable and normal. As a result, many young people are led to believe that in order to be accepted as “normal” as presented by the entertainment industry, they must participate in one or more of these activities. This participation, in addition to being a way to gain security, is also a form of rebellion against authority. Therefore, one may conclude that rock music is not as harmless as many believe but is really an agent encouraging young people to rebel against authority by participating in activities which are traditionally unacceptable.

The activity probably most advocated by the media — movies and television — is premarital sex. Many young people view the lack of participation in this activity as a social stigma or, in other words, a lack of peer acceptance. Unfortunately, this uncontrolled behavior has produced many adverse consequences such as sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies. Many young people are physically and/or psychologically injured as a result of this exploration into an activity with which they are unable to cope.

Another activity in which many youths participate is alcohol or drug usage. One reason some young people participate in this is in order to escape problems which they cannot or will not attempt to resolve. The resulting “high” they obtain after using these substances can offer a feeling of well-being which they do not know how to receive any other way. A greater number of youths use these substances to gain peer acceptance; if they refuse to use drugs or alcohol, they are often treated as social outcasts. In order to avoid this isolation, many young people give in. Unfortunately, some young people die or are permanently scarred as a result of their experimentation with these substances.

Up to this point, one can see that many young people participate in ultimately harmful activities in order to deal with their insecurities. Of course, it is natural for young people to possess a certain amount of insecurity, for they are struggling with the effects of maturing into a unique individual. However, it seems that young people of this generation possess insecurity to a greater degree than preceding generations. This increase is basically due to the effects of modern society upon young people.

Modern society is permeated with many problems. The family unit, which is the core of society, is rapidly deteriorating. There is friction between groups of people within society. Many baffling, communicable, and incurable diseases exist. The world economy is highly uncertain and unstable. Nations are unable or unwilling to coexist peaceably. The list of social, economic, and political problems continues indefinitely.

Often, when young people are made aware of the various problems within society, they become pessimistic, realizing that these problems cannot be easily solved. They realize that they will be presented a world that is so tainted with problems and will be expected to resolve them, or at least to prevent them from becoming worse. One cannot but wonder how these young people, as generally unprepared as they are presently, will be able to create a decent world within which people can exist relatively contentedly. Of course, as one can see, this lack of preparation is not entirely the fault of the young people, for it is difficult for young people to grow up successfully in this society, but unless this trend is reversed, the future cannot appear to be very promising or attractive.

The relationship between society and the members of society is a unique one. The state of society depends upon its members, and the members are influenced by the society in which they live. The state of the future of society depends upon the attitudes and preparation of young people to deal with the problems presented to them. However, when the young people are not adequately prepared, the future of society suffers. Therefore, one may conclude that because the young people of this generation are generally insecure, pessimistic, and inadequately prepared to take their place within society, the future will not be very promising unless this trend is reversed.


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    I just chuckled at your section on Rock music! I was a believer during what is now known as the “Satanic Panic”, and rock music, (and musicians), was SO vilified by evangelicals. I look back now, and I sometimes can’t believe that they went down this “rabbit trail”! And then I also can’t believe that I didn’t question what I was being told at that time… like, why the HELL was ANYONE listening to records in REVERSE??! What the hell were they on?!

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      And the thing with the playing the records backwards stopped completely when CD’s became the predominate medium for music. The crazies also stopped talking about the backwards “Satanic messages” at that point as they didn’t have the technical know how to listen the music backwards. Either that or the musicians quit putting in the evil messages.

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    TW and Scott, I think they called it backmasking, right? You’d think Satan and his demon cohort would have better things to do with their time! Lol…..

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      Correct. It was all the rage in the “Satanic Panic” era. There was a “ministry” in Minneapolis that was prominent at the time about it. They have long since disappeared. Nobody misses them.

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        Scott… Yes there was!! The ministry was run by two guys known as The Peters Brothers, and they ran a seminar called “The Truth About Rock”, focusing on the “Goals, Graphics, Lifestyles and Lyrics” of all of Rock music. The AOG church I was part of at the time brought the seminar in. Oh, and let’s not forget the record burnings that took place during this period. I remember how they pointed out the lyrics in Hotel California… “we haven’t had that spirit here”… supposedly referenced “evil spirits and demons”, while “stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast” supposedly referenced the “Beast of Revelation”! And SO many of us young, impressionable teens bought into this Goddamn crap! I remember getting rid of ALL my rock records after the seminar, because, I fucking believed what they were pushing, and I wanted to “honor God”, and when I think about that, it just pisses me off. In any case, after leaving people to speculate on the meaning of the song for years and years, Don Henley himself eventually commented that it was really a commentary/metaphor for the California music scene of that time! Perhaps instead of ASSuming the song was some sort of satanic ode, it seems to me that the Peters should have maybe gone and at least tried to ask the artist! Since my exit from evangelical Christianity, I have discovered that the vast majority of musicians and entertainers were never, ever into or interested in satanism or ANY such bullshit… some just adopted it as a gimmick… (AC/DC) for instance… many of them, outside of touring and entertaining have led relatively quiet, “normal” and some might even say boring lives! Imagine that! And IF they really WANTED to be “satanists”, that would be their business. I just cringe now every time I think about the things I bought into during that time.

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    Thanks for being brave to post this. I was lucky was not involved in conservative Christianity. I was brought up in the ELCA. When I was on a “Chrisitian” radio show back in the 90’s, when I was president of the local Humanists, the host said about that: “So you didn’t have far to go to your atheism.” I wasn’t quite sure whether he was insulting me or the whole denomination.

    I’m glad you made your journey out and are educating your kids religion free.

    And OMG, they were obsessed with sex and rock. Nice to know you were able to overcome that.

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    the missing part seems to be any congratulations on the student achievements or any charge to use the education and change the world etc that seem to be part and parcel of graduation speeches. seems we had the same training-to be stuck on mourning society and wishing for the past. glad you got out. thanks for putting yourself out there and sharing a cringeworthy part of your past. I have many cringeworthy past moments in the evangelical movement that pop into my head at inopportune times.

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    Maryg, yes, it was interesting that I didn’t congratulate the other graduates, point to a bright future, or mention God/Jesus/Christianity anywhere in that speech. I don’t recall that I did any of that in person either. The salutatorian gave the “congrats to the grads, let’s all go out and change the world” speech. I am surprised I was allowed to talk about sex and not mention God or Jesus or Christianity.

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      Bruce Gerencser

      Not mentioning God really stood out to me — you heathen. ? That said, your address was all about the Evangelical culture war. I had forgotten how influential Bloom’s book as in the 80s. I remember reading it.

      Sure would love to see a video of you delivering your address, comparing it to the woman you have become today.

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    Bruce, I never felt comfortable with “praise Jesus” talk. It was part of why I didn’t fit in with evangelical Christians. After cringing, I realized I had gotten away with not mentioning God AT ALL. I longed to escape what I considered the anti-intellectualism of the religion while still being terrified of God’s wrath.

    I don’t think there’s any video. I may have a few pictures somewhere though. Maybe I will write about the pompous a$$ I was, longing to escape fundamentalism. 31 years ago I wouldn’t have envisioned the left-leaning atheist that I have become – I might have been terrified of the consequences but would have been excited about the escape……

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      OC… “Maybe I will write about the pompous a$$ I was,…”. I’ll tell you what, I feel that so much! I was talking to my mom recently about this very thing, and about how especially, more than any other sect/flavor, Evangelical Christianity just seems to make people fucking judgmental assholes! Because I USED to be one of them! And when I look back, I JUST cringe at the person I was then…but then, it’s no wonder, because you come to believe that you’re SO superior to people in the world, because YOU know the truth that they don’t, because YOU have what you have been told is the inspired, inerrant, infallible word of the MOST powerful deity ever! In fact, the ONLY deity that counts! When you think about that, it’s an incredibly powerful idea and concept! And if you’re doing your very bestest to try and live by that word, well aren’t you just something special?! And then you begin to believe that… I don’t miss being that person… so I’m right there with you…

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    Brian Vanderlip

    ObstacleChick the young intellectual explaining the entire direction of American culture! You managed to insert the prevalent ideas of fundies but avoid direct reference to our Lord and Savior etc.! I think you were walking a thin line there and got away with it! Hey, you are still avoiding those obstacles in your way nowadays, just with a different twist, a run, jump and roll! Well done!

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    I’ve been a public high school teacher for 37 years (33 of them in the same school/community). I’ve heard a lot of graduation speeches, but this is definitely the most depressing one I’ve every read :(. I’m so glad you are out of that life. For me, your speech really expresses the fears that fundamentalist Christians seem to have about the world. Even though I’m not religious at all today and was raised in a completely different religious environment than you (vanilla Catholic who never read or wanted to read the Bible) I also noticed that you didn’t mention God as the answer to all this corruption in the world. Good job there!

    Did any of the adults who read / heard your speech ever comment on the fact that you didn’t mention that Jesus was the obvious answer to all the bad stuff that can ruin kids?

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    Caroline, I think I would like to write a followup post regarding the depressing nature of this speech, but you are spot on. Surprisingly, none of the adults who read it suggested that I mention that God is the answer. I am not entirely sure who needed to give approval. I was required to give it to my English teacher for editing, and he too tended to walk the line of not mentioning God in class (different from the other teachers). I am not sure who in administration allowed the speech to go forward. I do recall that because I wanted to go to a top university and was admitted, I was treated differently from other students who were steered toward fundamentalist Christian colleges. They needed me to point to in boosting their academic cache. They had already had 2 guys drop out of that same university, and they really wanted a graduate in order to better recruit students. Yuck.

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    Appalachian Agnostic

    I went to a public high school but I probably would have agreed with most of your points back then. I graduated in 1984. My (trans) daughter graduated from the same high school in 2008. At her graduation, one of the top students gave a speech in which she thanked God for a recent car accident that had injured her friend. She was grateful to God because before the accident, she could not think of anything to write her speech about. It was so kind of God to provide her with a ready-made topic for graduation.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Obstacle—You didn’t mention God or Jesus. On the other hand, you also didn’t use a word that probably would have been censored. I am about to use it.

    You have evolved. (The “e” word!). Evolutions occur when the raw materials and the tools to form them are presence. In your case, the materials were your intelligence and skepticism—which, it seems, could not be suppressed by even the most ardent religious zealotry. The tools were your critical thinking skills, however you acquired them.

    Reading your speech in light of what you write these days gives me reason to hope. Ignorance is a moment fugue: It repeats itself, but it cannot last. You are a testament to that fact.

    This praise comes to you from someone of whom your school would have disapproved—and whom I spent decades trying not to be: I am a transgender woman.

    Thank you, ObstacleChick!

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