A learning mind and a loving heart

Five years ago, MCA invited students from the RSU1 school district to join us at the State House for the release of the 2010 Maine KIDS COUNT Data Book. One of our guests was Kyle Hietala, an 8th grade student from Bath Middle School. Fast forward to 2014 and we found Kyle giving the Valedictory speech at Morse High School’s graduation ceremonies over the weekend. Sharing the text of Kyle’s speech (with his permission) on the Kids VOICE blog seemed a fitting way for MCA to mark this time of year, when young people across Maine are transitioning into new roles and responsibilities. Congratulations to the Maine high school graduates in the Class of 2014!

morse2014Classmates—teachers—family—friends—and strangers whom I would like to call my friends… good afternoon and congratulations to the Class of 2014 of Morse High School! My 88 year old grandfather traveled from California to be here today. Poppy, I dedicate my valedictory to you.

Four years of Morse High School have led me to a truth—not the only truth, but a truth worth remembering. And a few lessons have helped me to understand that truth. One lesson occurred in Montgomery Theater, when Thomas Putnam and Biff Loman taught me that I don’t always get to choose what roles I play but I do get to choose how to play them. The part is worth playing well, because circumstances are not meant to define but to be defined. And my classmates have defined circumstance too…

When Nathanial Barter explained Cuban history…
When Maddi Coyne painted beauty…
When Christopher Paulus dunked a basketball…
When Molly Turner took her date to prom…
When Cody Lamoreau distributed smoke alarms…
When we ignored our homework and bet on a snow day…
When “RSU1” wasn’t on the cancellation list the next morning, well… circumstance defined us.

But not all circumstances define us; sometimes we can walk away. Faking it never guarantees making it. I ran cross country and I played basketball for a reason without genuine desire. If you’re faking it, walk away. There’s something better waiting for you.

I never faked it in debate. Debate taught me the value of indulging in a passion. By indulging in my passion I improved myself, and in improving myself I elevated my worth to humankind. And debate proved that great thoughts achieve little without clarity. How tragic it is to merely speak to each other, not with each other.

But thinking and speaking aren’t always enough. Laughter makes learning better. Who says you have to be somber to learn? I laughed and learned a lot about math, and just like in math, it’s true in life that anything times zero equals zero. Got talent and no discipline? Zero. A problem and no courage? Zero.

Music—or audible math that you can twerk to—nevermind, don’t—please don’t twerk. Anyway, music taught me to be on time and in tune. When everyone plays in their own key, no one listens, but when we show up on time and do what we need to do, we might form a symphony. Only then are we truly heard.

And today our class—our symphony—sits together one final time. We share the memories forever, and although we part ways, the responsibilities we shall inherit will bind and unite us, too—not just to each other, but to the truth.

The first great responsibility is to partake, to have zeal for living and the richness and incredible possibility life holds. Our turn to discover and define the human experience has come.

The second great responsibility is to persist, because a burden lightens if shouldered and grows heavier if ignored. We are stewards of all living things and our generation is confronted with a planet in peril. But our shoulders are strong.

Life is a gift and the way we live it proves the sincerity of our gratitude. Today, I am profoundly grateful. Each of us has people to whom we are deeply indebted, and I’d like to thank a few of those people in my life.

Jessie—my rock.
Ben—my great adversary but greater ally.
Valur—my little brother in all but blood.
Liddy—my speech savior.
Mr. Jordan—my mentor (but not in matching shirts with ties).
Mrs. Trundy—my advocate.
Poppy—my humorous teacher of wisdom.

And Mom and Dad—I’m here today because of your unconditional love. That shy little boy who watched birds, conducted the Boston Pops, and gazed upon the world through knowing eyes rises from strong roots. This is your day, too. I love you both so much.

To all of my friends, teachers, and mentors who have stood in my corner, thank you so much, for you have illuminated my way to the truth.

Class of 2014, our turn beckons us. Abraham Lincoln said, “whatever you are, be a good one.” Heed his words. Hold fast to a creed and believe in a dream, and don’t just say it, live it. Fill the passing minute with your unrelenting best, and forgive yourself when all you can give is your worst. No matter your circumstances, no matter your dreams, devote yourself to the pursuit of excellence.

Beneath that cap a mind stirs—ready to learn; beneath that gown a heart beats—ready to love. And so learn, and love. Learn, and love, for no circumstance can ever, ever stop you from doing that. And after all, more than a few circumstances have been changed for the better because of a learning mind and a loving heart. And that is the truth.

Fair winds and following seas to us all. And by the way, as a final tribute to Morse High School, this speech was exactly 826 words.


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