HHS Graduation Valedictorian Address by Sam Raphaelson

August 1, 2020 (Speech transcript provided by Hingham High School, photo courtesy of Joshua Ross Photograph). 

Following is a transcript of the Valedictorian speech given by Sam Raphaelson at the Hingham High School 2020 Graduation on Saturday, August 1.  

When I was told I was our class valedictorian, I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be nice if it was a kind of pick-your-prize? You can give a speech, or you can cancel prom” … Luckily for me I get both. {PAUSE} That’s a bit of a selfish take, but I believe that humans are inherently selfish creatures. We need to spend time and energy on ourselves before we can contribute positively to our environments. How do we begin to understand ourselves? Take my mom, for example. She has always valued creativity, and was drawn to cooking, because, in her words, the bright ingredients, the manual act of chopping, and the smells and taste made her more present in those moments. She created goals based on her value of creativity, and leaving high school, she got summer jobs working at restaurants. But the joy she found in food sputtered from the physical exhaustion that cooking for 80 people each night entailed. So she expanded her vision, and reached out to a restaurant consultant, hoping to learn the trade. He referred her to hotel training, and she spent another summer working every position at a Providence hotel. During her work, she watched businessmen and businesswomen come through the restaurant in her hotel, and she grew envious of their freedom and exposure to the broader world, resenting the narrowness her hotel job began to represent. The value she placed in creativity was being overshadowed by a fear of balancing the demands of restaurant work with her other goal of supporting a family. She also grew envious of friends who had money to throw around, something she definitely didn’t have. So she turned to finance, a business both her parents were in, and began a 30-plus year career as an investment advisor. She understood that she valued creativity, excitement, and financial stability, but she didn’t have the perspective or guidance to find a job that synthesized the three. In the past year she has returned to her original journey to find a productive outlet for her creativity. [PAUSE]

It is easier than ever before to pursue a life based on someone else’s principles. Our generation has more worldview at 18 than many of our parents’ generation were able to gather in their entire lives, but in this process of becoming a globalized world, our American culture’s values of monetary wealth and status have infiltrated all of our media, forcing themselves into our consideration. Expensive cars and vacations are flaunted on Instagram and Snapchat, and themes of money and power dominate the hip-hop and rap music popular with our age group. I am not claiming that our generation has become compromised by these sponsored values, nor am I claiming that these values are inherently negative; rather, recognizing and cultivating your own values requires more intentionality and personal reflection than before. It is critical that we identify our values, and act deliberately on them, not because globalism has created the greatest barriers to us identifying our own values, but because it has brought the greatest wealth of opportunities for those of us who can.

To do this, though, we have to trust ourselves. As a proof on trusting yourself to make the best decisions, consider the idea of parallel universes, the idea that there are infinite copies of yourself living out every possible life from every single minute decision you make. Choosing between Reese’s Puffs and Special K for breakfast creates new possible lives, as does choosing between a potential career as a lawyer or an artist. If we fail to identify our personal values, what is truly important to us, we will have no basis for making decisions and the path we pick will ultimately be irrelevant. We need to know what we like in a breakfast cereal to decide whether Reece’s Puffs or Special K is a better choice (A hint: one of them makes the morning time epic). Similarly, we need to understand whether we place greater importance in justice or creativity to decide between a potential career as a lawyer or an artist. Once we identify what is important to us, one of our possible lives becomes the objective best. But we don’t have to worry about finding the best, because there are infinite lives marginally different from that best life, and infinite lives slightly different than those, where we find fulfillment in our ideals, whether they include creativity, competition, justice, or monetary wealth and status. There are infinite ways for us to find fulfillment, so long as we continue to reassess what is important to us. [PAUSE] We will have to make sacrifices along the way, but at the very least we will know which sacrifices we are making and why we are making them. [PAUSE]

The difficult part for us now is building our values, because they will take significant time and energy to recognize and develop. I spend the most time thinking about myself while I run, but you could reflect on your drive to school, before you go to bed—during any moment to yourself. It is our responsibility to be vigilant in expanding our worldviews, and perceptive of our values, whether they stay the same or change as we grow. And based on these values, we must make decisions to shape our future, and take advantage of the opportunities we have that previous generations only wished for. From one of my favorite characters, Iroh: “It is time for you to look inward and start asking yourself the big questions. Who are you and what do you want?”


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