For John Fullam, graduating from high school meant delivering the valedictorian’s speech. When he took the podium at graduation in New Paltz on June 27, he claimed not to have much to say. “In the words of the great Don Bartlett, the key to effective communication is brevity. So here goes – congratulations and good luck,” said Fullam, who pretended to walk away from the podium with merely a one-liner.
After the prank, the Class of 2014’s top student returned to deliver a speech urging his classmates not to feel overwhelmed. He asked them to strive to bring good into the world, even if the results weren’t immediate.
He told his audience to remember the parable of the starfish, in which a little boy throws starfish back into the sea one at a time just to do what he can to make a difference and save lives.
“The truth of the matter is, though we are an extremely bright and talented group, it is unlikely that any single one among us is going to change the world in a dramatic way,” the valedictorian said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if one of us did, but if not I wanted to tell you that that is perfectly okay.”
Fullam also recalled American movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, does small acts of kindness every day. During a moment of despair, in his hour of need, the whole town of Bedford Falls pulls for him. “Collectively, if some or all of us bring some small amount of good into the world, then we will certainly have done better together,” he said.
English teacher Lisa St. John, the graduation’s commencement speaker, asked students to take risks, to find friends who would allow their creativity to flourish. “Trust the artist within,” she told students.
Altogether, more than 160 seniors graduated from New Paltz High School this year. Recent years have seen as many as nearly 200 students grab their diploma from principal Barbara Clinton and schools superintendent Maria Rice. Rice told students it was an honor to preside over the ceremony this year.
Rice reinforced the theme of Fullam’s speech, telling students to aim big. “Collectively, you will all make a difference in the enter world,” she said.