Leaving our children a better country than we inherit

Published 4:43 am Tuesday, May 26, 2009

By By Tray Smith
(Editor’s Note: The following is the text delivered by Tray Smith as the Salutatory Address at Escambia County High School during the Class of 2009 gradation on Friday night.)
Thirty-five years ago, my father graduated from ECHS. Then, the country was shaken by the scandal of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Every year since, a different group of faces has arrived here during its own unique period in our history. Over time, America and the world have greatly changed. So now, we, the class of 2009, come to graduate under different circumstances than those that faced our parents. Yet, the challenges that face us are just as great as those that faced them. And just as our moms and dads responded to the problems facing our nation by spreading freedom to every continent and the Internet to almost every home, we will meet our own challenges. For we know as our parents knew, that our greatest responsibility as Americans is to leave our children a better country than the one we are about to inherit.
Graduation means we are ready to meet this task—not because we know everything we will ever need to learn, but because we know how to learn everything we will ever need to find out.
I have the honor of commemorating this moment as the salutatorian of a class that has many talented students. And it is a special honor to stand before Joy Marshall, our valedictorian and my good friend. Joy, I am so proud for you, I will miss you, and I know this school will miss you, as well.
Congressman Bonner, Mr. Hines, Mr. Means, parents, teachers, friends, guests and members of the community; thank you all for being here to join with us in this great moment in our lives. And on behalf of the entire class of 2009, I extend a sincere thanks to you all, especially our parents and grandparents, for the contributions you have made to make this moment possible.
I want to specifically thank Congressman Bonner for making this event a priority. Congressman, the fact you are here signifies your strong commitment to our young people and our future. While in Congress, you have done many great things for this district. On a personal basis, though, I am most appreciative for the life changing doors you have opened for me, a young kid from Atmore. I can’t imagine my high school years without the experiences I had working in Washington as your page. Again, thank you.
Even though we graduate tonight, we will still depend on many of you in this room. I am sure I will not be the only member of the class of 2009 to call Mom every time I have to do laundry in college. I still have no clue how to work the machines. Okay, I might be alone on that one. But I want our parents and mentors to know we will always be open to your advice and appreciate your insight.
Mom and Dad, Nee Nee and Paw Paw, aunts and uncles, Mrs. Bonnie and Mrs. West, other family members and friends, I love you all and I am so thankful for the role you have played in my life. And I know for all of my 132 fellow graduates, there are an equal number of people who share in the credit for this day, and who will share in the credit for the successes that come in the future.
When Mom asked me to describe my first day at ECHS years ago, I said it was like walking through the mall. But now, after having spent several years with classmates in school, at events and serving out extracurricular responsibilities, the faces that were once like strangers in the mall to me are now the familiar faces of friends I pass daily in the hallway.
They are the faces of Nakeidra Brown and Brittney Martin arguing with Gordon Nichols and me in Algebra. They are the many happy faces of Lashae Powers defending me in SGA meetings. They are the ever- frustrated faces of Katie Coon, adamantly insisting that she and I are not related. And they are the almost indistinguishable, but always smiling, faces of the Forney twins.
And these faces will remain with us familiar long after this commencement exercise is over. Because the bonds that exist between us are not only the bonds of classmates, they are the bonds of friends, and they will endure.
They will endure because they have been forged in a place where everyone looks out for their neighbors, in a town that respects traditional values, by people who cherish family and friendship. Growing up in Atmore, wemay not have had easy access to Wal Mart or Starbucks, but we have had each other. That, my friends, has made all the difference.
From this moment, we will all go down different paths: some of us will go on to college, others will enter the workforce and some will start families. Yet, as graduates, we are now all adults in the world’s greatest and most democratic country. As such, we have both an opportunity to make a difference and a responsibility to make a contribution.
Regardless of where we end up, there will be fatherless children in need of mentors and hungry people in need of food. These needs belong not just to individuals, but to the entire nation. And as President John Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, by lending a helping hand to those people, we serve not only our fellow countrymen, but also our country.
Our record here at ECHS gives me faith in our ability to live up to that standard of service. In our four years here, we have had three principles and five assistant principals. In these periods of transition, students have had to step forward and carry the mantle of leadership. I am confident that we leave behind a dedicated team with Mr. Means, Mrs. Shuford, and Mr. Lanier, but I am also proud to say future students at this school will benefit from what the Class of 2009 accomplished, from saving the newspaper to starting the scholars’ bowl team to reinvigorating our athletic programs.
However, the difficult tasks that come with significant roles in society are much more consequential and much more trying. Thankfully, some of our classmates are already rising nobly to those challenges. Tonight, I want to ask Hierry Carter, Cortina James, Thomas Johnson and Wade Johnson to stand.
As the rest of us enjoy our newfound freedom as graduates, these members of the Class of 2009 have chosen to serve as the guardians of that freedom in distant and dark corners of the world. They have chosen to join the United States Military. They deserve our respect, our admiration and our applause. Thank you.
As we go forward, let us remember with gratitude these brave individuals. Let their willingness to sacrifice selflessly for a cause greater than themselves inspire us all. And let us all remember that God put us in this place in history, at this moment in time, because He trusted no other generation with the charges that are already confronting us. And it is in God’s glory that we must heed the call of duty to defend our freedoms, preserve our values and maintain our way of life. So that when we are all long gone and the history of this generation is written, it can be said that the graduates of the ECHS Class of 2009 were men and women of integrity, who did not give into the false choices and pretexts that so often corrupt our way of thinking, bow to the forces of mediocrity that so often restrain our true potential, or enslave ourselves to the prejudices and stereotypes that have for years served as crippling cracks in our society.
Let it be said that we, the class of 2009 never forgot the lessons learned growing up here, in Atmore. That we, the class of 2009, never forgot the people - moms and dads, teachers and administrators, pastors and friends and grandparents- who raised us. That we never forgot our purpose, and worked tirelessly to make sure our purpose was fulfilled. Thank you. May God bless you and may God bless this honorable class.
Tray Smith is a former page in the U.S. House of Representatives. He can be reached at tsmith_90@hotmail.com. His column appears weekly.

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