Jason Fiacco’s Valedictorian Speech


Valedictorian2I want to first thank my friends, my family, my teachers and my coaches. I want to especially thank my dad, who always motivated me with his encouraging words. My dad would always tell me, “Jason, with your ugly face, you better get good grades to make up for it.”
Today, I’m going to start by telling you about a story from my childhood. When I was four years old, I made a brilliant discovery. I was sitting in my driveway, watching my dad inflate basketballs with one of those handheld basketball pumps. This gave me an idea. I thought that to be smart, you needed a really big brain, and to have a big brain, you needed a big head. So when my dad left, I secretly grabbed the basketball pump, stuck the nozzle into my ear and tried to pump up my head, thereby inflating it. I didn’t even hesitate; I was really confident that this was going to make me a genius. It makes sense right? If you can inflate a basketball, you can inflate your head. Right? No. I ended up in the hospital with a punctured ear drum. Even the doctor had trouble keeping a straight face. At first I thought the doctor felt sorry for me, but then I realized that he felt sorry for my mother. My parents looked at my brother Nick and thought, “well, at least our other son is normal.”
My basketball-pump-in-ear
experiment was really the first time
I can remember experiencing failure and disappointment, and it certainly wasn’t the last. But whenever I tell this story, I’m somewhat proud that I took a risk and pursued my idea, despite the fact that it didn’t work out. Taking a chance and diving into the unknown might lead to failure, but it’s the only way to find out if you’ll succeed.
The main reason my experiment was so risky was because I didn’t have all the information yet. I didn’t know what would happen. And throughout most of life, we rarely know exactly what is going to happen. Think about when we first entered this school: suddenly, we were thrust into a foreign territory with unfamiliar faces and a labyrinth of hallways. We had no idea what we were doing. We weren’t sure where to sit in the cafeteria. We weren’t sure whether we could survive without recess. We weren’t sure whether we should get rolling backpacks. But using risk as a compass, we were able to navigate the unknown until it became familiar. By eighth grade we were seasoned veterans, who confidently marched the halls of the school with the rolling backpacks we ended up getting.
Still, that doesn’t mean that every risk we’ve taken throughout our time together has been without failure. We’ve all had our own basketball pump incidents these past years. In middle school, some of us confidently wore ridiculous amounts of deodorant. We took a risk anytime we ate anything other than a wrap in the cafeteria. Then, we entered high school. Again, lots of deodorant. We tried to simultaneously plan a senior prank and carry it out within the same day. And sometimes, you didn’t always make the sports team you tried out for. Going out on a limb doesn’t mean that you’ll always succeed, and some of our ideas and dreams haven’t gone the way we hoped. But the beauty of risks is that they offer clarity, experience and a foundation for new dreams. Our dreams and goals have probably changed a lot since the beginning of high school, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, if everyone achieved their very first dream in life, most of us would be superheroes and princesses, and I would have a blimp for a head. Taking risks allows you to discover who you are.
On the other hand, it’s even more important to remember the many times that we took risks and succeeded. Think of the time you tried out for that sports team and made it. Think of the time you performed in a concert in front of a full auditorium. Think of the time you auditioned and got the part in that play. Think of the time someone finally told Coach G that his rock climbing harness was way too tight. Most importantly, remember the friends you made despite the fear of rejection. As we look back, it’s clear that risks have allowed this class to include talented musicians, award-winning writers, athletes, club presidents, researchers, and that’s just me! The truth is, our greatest memories are built upon the things we’ve done, not the things we were too afraid to do. And the fact that we’re all here graduating today means that we’ve taken risks and thrived.
Today is the beginning of new unknowns that we will soon face, and everything truly important in life will be a risk. Choosing a major is a risk. Meeting new people is a risk. Getting married is a risk. Having kids is a risk. It’s easy to feel lost and anxious about the future, but don’t just resort to the safe way out. We live in very cautious times, where people feel that they need to have their whole lives planned way in advance. Some people feel that they need to know by age 10 that they’re going to become doctors, cops or lawyers. But if you live too cautiously, you’ll miss the important things in life. There is no such thing as a safe idea. Every dream is risky, so don’t waste your risks on someone else’s dream. We’ll all going to face failure at some point, so you might as well fail doing something you love. And when given the choice between the safe path and the basketball pump, don’t be afraid to choose the pump. But maybe give it a little more thought than I did.
Class of 2016, I began this speech by telling you a silly story from 14 years ago. 14 years from now, as you look back, think about what kind of story you want to tell. Hopefully, you’ll laugh at some of the risks you took, but still be able to recognize why you took them in the first place. And as you explore new unknown territory, keep experimenting and trying new things. Most importantly, do something no one has ever done before, and you’ll live a story worth telling. Thank you, and congratulations.

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