Elizabethtown Area High School valedictorian Conor Larison poked fun at his own colorblindness as he urged his classmates to look beyond differences and see the humanity in everybody.
After referring to allegations of Russian interference with last year’s election, Larison joked, “Our only hope can be that the occupation does not last long, and that purple, green and pink may once again be present on our flag poles.”
But Larison went on to make a serious point, noting that the Wobe language spoken in western Africa’s Ivory Coast has only three distinct color groups: dark, light and red.
“Before we call each other ‘crooked’ or group each other into ‘baskets of deplorables,’ we should strive to understand each other and find the humanity in us all,” Larison said. “Perhaps the Wobe are correct. Perhaps there is no need to sort ideas and objects that share a common link into so many tiny groups. It is time for us to view the world like the Wobe. If we can, and we will, we can face any challenge the world may throw at us.”
Larison went on to urge his classmates to display empathy.
“Although it may be difficult for us, we must strive to find the connections between each other, and cooperate if we are to succeed,” Larison said. “If we can build empathy within ourselves, we will not only improve our own virtue, but the virtue of society as a whole. As Maya Angelou once said, ‘I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.’”
Salutatorian Simon Munyan noted that his classmates are facing a changing economy that will not have the stability that previous generations saw.
“In our great-grandfathers’ time, they could go to the factory, mill, or mine and make a living and raise a family,” Munyan said during the ceremony on Wednesday, June 7. “In our grandfathers’ time, the steel mills, automakers, telecoms, and trades still beckoned right after high school. The GI Bill paid for a few years in college or trade school, and once done, one could pretty much work for the rest of their life at the same job. Our parents have had to be much more creative to afford to raise a family, meaning both parents working has become the norm, and some sort of post-high school education and ongoing training is required for today’s job market.”
Munyan noted that automation is increasing at a rate not seen in the past.
“The smart homes, cars, offices, and factories that make our lives easier today, will require fewer people every year to accomplish the same output,” Munyan said. “Jobs that have existed for hundreds of years are already being phased out by their mechanical counterparts. Those that are not eliminated, will greatly change, requiring new skills and flexibility. In the face of such challenges, what education and career directions are we to set for our lives and careers that will last a lifetime? What if the careers we study or apprentice for in the next few years are all gone before we have reached 30 or 40 years of age? And what if our lives aren’t centered around money at that point?”
Munyan said it is impossible to stop the progress of technology and urged his classmates not to try.
“Instead of working harder, longer hours, trying to defeat the machines like a modern day John Henry, we can decide now that we will work to live and not live to work. We can jealously guard a portion of our time to explore avocations and hobbies — those pursuits that give meaning to our lives, and not just money,” Munyan said. “We can choose to live like Thoreau did, reducing our appetites for material things, investing our income on what will last, and increasing our desire for living. Through compassionate organizations and personal commitment, we can serve others who have been left behind by the changing times, or who never got the chance to board the train of progress.”
Harrison Eichelberger, who was selected by his classmates as senior speaker, urged his classmates to broaden their sources of information and listen to people with whom they disagree.
“I ask each one of you, everyone in this room, to expand your frame of reference and your base of information,” Eichelberger said. “Honestly talk to people you disagree with, people who make your blood boil and your ears bleed. Don’t simply dismiss them as unpatriotic or unintelligent. Listen to them. Understand them. Having that dialogue is the most important thing any us can do; it’s the only way to bridge the divide and heal America.”