To the class of 2015, part one

Editor’s Note: As I have in years past, I will again provide to readers what I would deliver as a commencement speech to outgoing seniors if I were given the opportunity. This will come in two parts, each with different themes. Part two will publish in next Monday’s edition of The Evening Sun.

To all who have met or exceeded the requirements needed to receive a diploma and open the next chapter of your life:

You have spent nearly your entire life in school. If we count preschool beginning at age three and assume you’re now 18, that’s 15 years of your life. Some of you are opting to continue a life of schooling. Here’s where I’ll insert the cliche Mark Twain quote, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

At any rate, what I’d really like to discuss is something that you’ve dealt with while in school, and something you’ll continue to deal with throughout the remainder of your life. And that, my friends, is the “bully.”

A bully is defined as a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. They’re all over. Some of you are bullies. Some of you have been bullied. Some of you have stood by and watched while bullying took place.

Some of you think that because high school is over, that bullying will end. That’s where you’re mistaken.

A bully can be six, 16, 56, 96 … there is no age limit to a bully. There is no title limit to a bully. There are no gender restrictions, socioeconomic restrictions, or orientation restrictions. A bully is a bully, and you’ll encounter them – be it indirectly or directly – throughout your lives.

It’s how you react that’s important.

It would be too easy if I were to say that if you were being bullied in college you should go to your advisor, because I have been bullied first-hand by a college advisor into changing my career path. As I said, bullies have no borders. However, if you are being bullied in college by a student, I sincerely hope you vocalize that to someone – be it a friend, parent, grandparent, or someone else you trust. If the intimidation continues, or violence ensues, other measures should be taken. Personally, I adhere to the non-aggression principle. I do not initiate force or violence unless aggressed upon, and am not advocating violence against a bully, it could only escalate the situation.

You are who you are. A complete individual and there is no other like you. For someone to harass or intimidate you because they do not like an action you made, or the way you dress, or who you love, that’s not okay. Please make sure as you begin this next chapter that that is clear to you.

You are are beautiful, intelligent, (soon-to-be) free human beings (hopefully) ready to take on this crazy world in full force.

If your next step is college, good for you. Not only was I bullied by an advisor in a position of power, I was once bullied by a football player who – physically – could have overpowered me in a flash. I opted to use the written word to ensure that boy never played college football again.

If you’re opting not for college, good for you, too. It’s 2015, and you have the world at your fingertips. You can learn about anything you’d like using the internet, and can further your career that way.

Regardless of your next step, once you enter the “real world,” remember that bullies are everywhere. The CEO you work for in New York City could very well attempt to bully you; an elected official can try to bully you, and a co-worker in a factory could be a bully. Some people believe that because of either who they are or the position they hold, they are entitled to treat others poorly.

Remember, you are you, and do not deserve to be bullied because of the color of your skin, your socioeconomic status, your sexual orientation (or lack thereof), your last name, your political stance (or lack thereof), how you dress, your job, if you have a mental or physical disability, if you’re overweight.

Don’t tolerate it. Be you, and be proud. Stick to your principles.

If this has struck a mental nerve to anyone here who feels as though they may have been a bully in high school, or are now remembering that time they tripped the “poor kid” on the way to the bus stop, or may have bullied someone last week – stop. While you are just as important of a human as those bullied, remember you are no better. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, but I implore you to make the last time you bullied someone the last time, ever.

Additionally, someone who stands by and watches bullying is just as bad as the bully.

What I would like to see is a generation of wonderful human beings who recognize their potential and use it for good, as the “real world” you’re about to enter is harsh, and it is filled with bullies who obviously dropped their manners when they got up on their pedestal.

Please be that group who grows either together or independently as respects each individual for who they are. Whenever you pass someone on the street or on campus, say “hello,” or give a smile, hold open the door to the coffee shop or gas station. You have no idea what someone may have just lived through moments before.

To be continued, with a totally different theme… .

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