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The commencement speech I bombed — or did I? (Video)

red, black, white cartoon saying I love you


IMBeggar - published on 07/13/23

She took hold of both my hands and said, “There wasn’t a dry eye out there.” To this day I don’t know if she was just being nice.

Many years ago I used to teach religion to 8th graders who … well, let’s just say, that’s the last place on Earth they wanted to be. At the end of the year, after the final farewell Mass, the pastor leaned over to me and said, “These kids are sick of hearing from me, time for new blood, you’re doing the commencement speech!” He disappeared laughing, knowing it was only three days away.  

So I crammed. And after two and a half days I had what I thought was a very well thought out, well organized speech, with all the right jokes, the right amount of sentiment and some very clever insights. I patted myself on the back. But God had other plans.  

The day before graduation, something was off in my head: What’s the one thing you want to leave these kids with, the one thing that matters, the one thing that sums up a whole year of my feeble attempt at “religion class”? I scanned over my speech in my head and realized it boiled down to self-aggrandizing babble, vague platitudes, and veiled preachy undertones: soulless and utterly inauthentic.  

So this time I prayed about it, the stress increasing because I had nothing: What did Christ leave His disciples with? Then it hit me. Something vulnerable, real, and much more “me” than the pile of words I had mashed together before. At 11 p.m. Thursday, the words flowed as if dictated from another source.  

Friday night, the mic hot, the auditorium even hotter, and I was up. I looked over the 8th graders looking back at me as if to say, “Oh look, it’s you” and, “This better be good.” After an awkward silence, all I said was, “I love you.” It cut through the quiet, muggy auditorium. I then went on to describe what I meant by that, meaning every word.   

When I finished, it was dead silent: no applause, no giggles or snickers, just crickets. I walked off stage thinking, “Well, that bombed.” Backstage I met the principal, her eyes a little red. “I think I missed on that one,” I said cringing.  She took hold of both my hands and said, “There wasn’t a dry eye out there.” To this day I don’t know if she was just being nice.  

Whether it landed or not, I’ll let you decide, because that speech much later became this video. And if nothing else, I wish to say to you what I attempted to say to them:


This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

The Human Being Fully Alive
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