By Gordon Dritschilo
Mathew Mathews said a tragedy made him abandon his graduation speech.
The Mill River Union High School Class of 2018 salutatorian said he had looked up old graduation speeches on YouTube and put one together that hit all the standard notes. Then the news broke about food writer and television host Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Mathews said he had admired Bourdain for years, and wanted to travel the world the way he did.
“Sadly, Bourdain was only the latest in a tradition of people with fame and fortune taking their own lives,” he said.
Mathews told his fellow graduates that they will periodically spot people suffering from the sort of loneliness that contributes to depression and suicide.
“We have the responsibility to be uncomfortable, to reach out to people,” he said. “The solution lies in your hands. I ask you, Class of 2018, be proof of unconditional love.”
Principal Todd Finn talked about how the graduates were born into a world with the internet and came of age when social media was already an established phenomenon. He said these technologies did not entirely live up to their promise, subjecting the graduates and others to online bullying, scams and “fake news.”
“We told you there was a treasure chest of information out there, and we didn’t give you a map,” he said. “You had to make your own map.”
Finn challenged the graduates to spend a few days unplugged from social media, making “real connections with real people.”
Valedictorian John Graves said rather than deliver an opening joke, he thought he should ask for another round of applause for the previous two speeches. He went on to talk about memories and lessons from the past few years, saying one of the key lessons was about motivation.
Graves said it was easier for him to analyze baseball statistics than to analyze literature, even though it involves the same skills and the same amount of labor. “It is not hard work itself that is difficult to find motivation for, but hard work that is not rewarding,” he said, continuing that he and his fellow graduates must find ways to make their work meaningful. “We can ask ourselves, what can I do with my time that is important.”