Commencement speech at a Northeastern High School, June 2011. by Michael Alexander
When I realized I would be speaking at this graduation ceremony, I had to think a lot about what to say. Because when giving a speech, especially a graduation speech, you want it to be interesting, and relevant, but it can’t be too complex–you have to consider your audience. And I’m speaking for the most part to High School students. There are others in the audience, but I’m for the most part talking to you.
So, I’m going to talk tonight about–graduation… and the origins of the universe, whether or not we have souls, and the universal rights of man. And I’m sure you are mature enough to hear these facts of life.
Listening to my speech tonight may be a little bit like playing “connect the dots,” except tonight, in this speech, the dots will be moving.
Just about one month ago, a famous physicist declared that human beings are just machines, computers; and when the hard drive crashes, that’s it. There’s nothing.
Wouldn’t that be a joke?
But before I get into that topic, I want to say to all of you “Congratulations.” So I will: Congratulations.
Congratulations? For what? Graduating? Is that a good thing? Says who? What’s so good about it? Is there such a thing as good? As opposed to bad? Are there rules, truths, or is everything meaningless–or “relative?”
Now I may be dating myself here, but about 14 billion years ago–and I think only your principal and I are old enough to remember, but about 14 billion years ago there was a tiny object the size of an atom–and there was nothing else… there was a formless void. And within a trillionth of a second that tiny object expanded maybe a hundred yards or so. And within 30 minutes it had expanded many light years across. And shortly thereafter it was really gigantic. And after a while it started to cool; and clusters formed which became galaxies, and stars, and solar systems, and planets…. And the earth. And us.
So what. Who cares. Whatever.
What’s so good about that? And what does it have to do with graduation?
Well, we only know about this stuff because there are laws. Physical laws which we have discovered rule the universe. And we have used these laws, these rules, to gather all this information about what happened 14 billion years ago.
There are rules of science: physics, astronomy, mathematics, medicine. You do something this way, it works. It’s good. You deviate, don’t follow the law or rule, It doesn’t work. It’s bad. There’s a right way and a wrong way. A good way and a bad way–and these laws are observed, obeyed, every day.
What else do we observe? Some things are observed annually: Anniversaries, Birthdays, Passover, Christmas–graduation. Every year we do these things. Every year.
If we are just hard drives that crash and burn and disappear then all of this observing is a great big bad joke.
FACT: There are people here today who have shed tears of joy and sorrow over you graduates; who have laughed with each other and hugged each other over you.
How is it possible that from the expansion of a tiny particle14 billion years ago there are now such things as a tear drop, a smile, a kiss, the healing touch of a hand?
How is it possible that it led to some of the joys of you hiding in the darkness at 3 a.m. with a huge water gun playing a game called “Assassin?”
When did communication begin?
Do you know that they have found the first written communication of one human being to other human beings? And this is going to blow your mind, but this is what was said: “Good morning, young people, parents, and staff. Due to the inclement weather, all schools in our district will be closed.”
QUESTION: Why are decisions made to close schools when the weather is bad?
ANSWER: Because it’s the right thing to do.
We are here tonight because there is good in the world.
Thomas Jefferson was a scientist. We know him as a founding father and great political figure, but he was fascinated with science, and particularly with paleontology–the study of fossils. He studied nature. He was a student of the scientific method.
But when it came to human beings, and human rights, he threw science out the window; because he didn’t need it.
He wrote “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” It’s better than science.
“All men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” And he insisted that we must respect those rights, because they are good.
What the heck am I talking about? What do I mean?
QUESTION: If you were going blind; if you were deaf, very sick, getting old, no wife, no kids–would you be happy?
Beethoven, Beethoven found himself in that exact same situation and he wrote his last symphony, the ninth symphony, under those circumstances. And the Ninth Symphony ends with the magnificent “Ode to Joy.” Not “Ode to the end of my sucky life.” Ode to Joy.
Because life is good.
You are good. L’Chaim. To life. Here’s to you.
In the Bible, which some call “The Good Book,” in Genesis God looks at all he created and he saw how good it was.
Beethoven, Jefferson, and many others recognized it, too.
If you become cynical, if you become bitter, if you become relativistic… if you do that you will be missing all the good, all the self-evident joys in the world.
Look around you. No, I mean it literally: take a few moments to look around this room. Look at each other’s faces.
You love each other. We all do.
Only beings infused with a knowledge of the good brought to you by a Creator who endowed you with unalienable rights–one of these rights being the pursuit of happiness–only we do.
You are important to us. We are proud of you. We love you. And if you’re not sure, look around again.
So this graduation ceremony is most definitely in order. We acknowledge the good in you and the accomplishments you have achieved. We are here because there is good in the world. So to all of you wonderful students of the graduating class of 2011: you have done a good thing, and you know it, and we know it. And it is real.
Congratulations, continued success, and God Bless all of you.
 Assassin is a game played by high school seniors wherein the goal is to shoot an opposing team player with a water gun. That player is then out of the game. Assassin cannot be played on school grounds. Seniors have been known to hide in trees, behind bushes, or under porches in the early morning hours, patiently waiting for an opposing team player to come out of his house to go to school, only to be “assassinated” as he walks toward his car or the bus stop.
 This announcement is sent by phone to every family with children in the district when the weather is bad. It is burned into our minds, beautiful words to hear for a student, but an awful early morning wake-up call for the parents.