The following is the speech given by Malcolm Griffith, the valedictorian of St. John’s College, at its commencement exercises on Sunday, June 10, at the SJC Gymnasium. A total of 121 students received diplomas.
Malcolm, a 4.0 student, is the son of Ms. Julie Swift, finance officer at Central Health Region in the Ministry of Health, and Mr. Colin Griffith, deputy comptroller of Customs. Malcolm attended Grace Primary School before attending SJC. He will be attending SJC Junior College this August.
Members of the St. John’s College Board of Trustees; Fr. Antonio Vega, Jesuit Superior General of Belize; Mr. Jorge Espat, president, St. John’s College; Ms. Yolanda Gongora, headmaster; administrators; faculty; staff of SJC; parents; guardians; friends; invited guests; and my fellow graduates.
Before I start my speech, I would like everyone in the audience to turn to the left and look at the individual next to you, reach out and shake that person’s hand. With that being said, when the pomp and circumstance is done, each and every person in this gymnasium today can go back to his or her families, loved ones, colleagues and co-workers, and tell them that he or she has been “touched” by the valedictory address.
Usually, when the valedictorian is chosen to give his parting address, he or she customarily aims to discuss the obvious flaws and problems that currently exist in our developing nation, such as crime, violence, the corruption of the government, to name a few. However, that in itself is the easy way out, as everyone in this building today can allude to the many causes or the roots of our moral collapse, within our present day generation and society.
In other words, we don’t have to be geniuses to state what is wrong with the world today; we just need to be frequent news viewers and Facebook users in that case. It is easy to point fingers; it is easy to blame the Government; it is easy to find fault. Perhaps it might even be easier for me to blame my wonderful principal, Ms. Gongora, if my speech is a failure. But here at this institution we are not conditioned to become problem finders, but instead problem solvers!
Should we stare into the future with fear-gripped eyes because our country seems to be in turmoil? Do we stare hopelessly into what was once known as a peaceful haven; or do we stare into the future with excitement, vigor, enthusiasm, hope and a determination to be the change this haven is depending on? This noble institution has taught us not to be cowards, but great men, with social conscience, as ultimately emphasized by our slogan, “Men for Others”.
Everyone is a critic, but hardly anybody wants to be an activist. But then again if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Therefore, at this milestone in our young lives, I challenge you, my fellow graduates, not to be leaders of tomorrow, but instead be leaders of today. We will not wait for the future to charge and lead. We will lead as of today. We will lead as of Now!
Moreover, leaders of today, let us lead in no other image but our own. We live in a society where everybody wants to be like somebody, but not themselves. Everyone wants to be the next Bill Gates, the next Barack Obama, the next LeBron James, and the next Lova Boy. Let us lead in our image: the next Tyler Bowman, the next Devin Daly, the next Allan Pollard, and the next Joseph Petillo. Furthermore, let us not look at challenges as obstacles and hindrances, but instead as opportunities. In other words, let us use negativity as a gateway to foster greatness. Let us be different and defy the odds. In saying this, I refer to the appropriate words of Professor Paulo Freire, historian and educator, “Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle.”
My fellow leaders of today, let’s not limit our potential based on the social bracket of appearance, financial status, and living conditions. Let us not only prove society wrong, but also uplift it. For in the words of the New Thought philosopher Orison Marden, “Our thoughts and imagination are the only real limits to our possibilities.”
At this point let me be honest: I was never a star pupil in my primary school class. As a matter of fact, let’s just say I wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. I clearly remember my father scolding me on report card days, “Malcolm why are you crying?” I would reply, “Daddy cause I nuh think I do good.”
But all of that took a drastic change before I entered my first year of high school when an adult, whose name I wish not to reveal, once said, I would never amount to anything because I don’t know what it’s like to earn or work for something.
I remember those words clearly — I would “NEVER amount to anything.” Now, I could have easily agreed and lived up to the expectations of that insolent individual. I could have felt sorry for myself and say maybe the person was right. I could have said, “I’ll never be able to make my parents proud.”
However, I refused to let negativity be an obstruction to my success. Four years later, look at me now! I’m in front of a beautiful audience giving a valedictory speech and actually imparting knowledge and wisdom, hoping to shape the lives of many.
So, my fellow leaders, let us aspire to inspire others, while drawing inspiration from within ourselves. For when there is negativity, there lies opportunity. Therefore, today I join resolutely with Albert Einstein, in saying “that in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Thus our nation being inundated with negativity, presents to this graduating class unlimited opportunities.
May I add that I was not the perfect student; I got my fair share of demerits, jugs, and a whole lot of scolding from Ms. Andrade. None of us is a perfect being and we will stumble at some point in our journey to success, but let’s not use pessimism or doubt as an excuse to undermine our potential. Yes, not all of us are blessed with inspiring teachers and positive role models, such as Ms. Murray, Mr. Graham, Ms. Olabimpe, Ms. Palacio, Mr. Alamilla, and even the big man himself, Mr. Rudon. But that should not be a justification as to why we are unable to reach our highest goal.
Motivation starts from within the student and is then guided by you, the parents and guardians. Therefore, on behalf of my fellow graduates, I express the greatest appreciation to our mothers, fathers and guardians, for without their unfailing and continuous effort this achievement would not have been possible. I grasp this opportunity to convey my sincerest gratitude to my parents, Julie Swift and Colin Griffith; and also those who have positively impacted my four years here at St. John’s College: Mr. and Mrs. Albert Vasquez, Ambrose Tillett, Aunt Sue, and the always vocal Uncle Steve. It is with a very sober heart that I also express posthumous gratitude to my grandmother, Mrs. Gloria Lynch, and most importantly, to the unwavering presence of God that has always accompanied me and will continue to guide me, as I submit to His will.
Leaders of today, I can no longer look upon you as my classmates and peers. For as of this day, you all are my brothers, for we are all delivered from the same womb, with our second mother being SJC — the mother of true leaders.
So I conclude this speech saying, that the degree or altitude of our success is not determined by the amount of hours we put in as leaders, but exactly what we put in the hours. I passionately remind you, my brother, let us lead in our own image; let us use negativity as the upper hand; and most importantly, let us be the heroes, saviors, and examples that this country has been waiting patiently for. Simply put, let us continue to be “men of SJC.”