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Jelani Buie OPC '15 COmmencement Address

I am so grateful for the opportunity to stand before the class of 2015 and deliver what I hope to be wisdom that will inspire everyone here today. This is a tremendous honor, and I take great pride in being chosen. These past weeks, though I kept a calm demeanor, I have been stressing out about what I wanted to say to you today, let alone how I was going to deliver this message. It was an inner leap of faith for me to find what I feel are inspirational words. I decided to simply share with you what I know and what I feel in my heart. Mr. Larrabee and I had a great conversation at prom about the death of a legend that rested on top of my big, bald, blockhead. For those of you who don’t know, I am talking about my afro. Mr. Larrabee told me that he envisioned me right here with my afro, and more importantly with my black power pick that I wore religiously. I just want you to know that there is no reason that I can’t have it with me right now. This pick, I believe, holds the memories of the class of 2015 and all of our countless accomplishments that will never be forgotten. Like my afro, we are heading off to a brighter future, and like my pic we will have a legacy that will never be destroyed.

We are lucky that we are able to graduate in the same year as one of the most important birthdays of our school’s history, the 325th anniversary. It is hard to believe that we are part of an institution that has been around for over three centuries. We have been a part of traditions that date all the way back to 1689; when I think about all of the classes that have graduated before us, I feel so privileged to be a part of a family that is just as old as the original English Bill of Rights. Although we have many similarities that connect us with those who have graduated before us, we have still developed our own personality, which makes the class of 2015 unique. We have been leaders in every aspect of Penn Charter life, and we have all taken full advantage of the numerous opportunities that were given to us. From the very beginning of the school year, we began planning the ways we would make this year unforgettable. From the 325th celebration to our senior rafting trip, there have been defining moments of self expression, growth on all levels, and a boat load of fun.

I am the type of  person who thinks with his heart over his brain, and that's okay because that has allowed me to act with compassion for the people around me.

I have seen each and every person on stage grow in some way, whether I have known them for 13 years, or only two years. Truth be told, I am just so excited to see what everyone is going to do in the world. We all have the golden ticket, and we are going to go out into world and change it in 112 different ways.

My mom is the wisest, proudest, most cheerful person I know. She always taught me to stay true to myself and to treat others with respect and love. That is the direct road to happiness. Traveling down this road is not easy, and you will not always be able to conquer life with love. That is why we must remember Veronica Buie’s other words of wisdom: “Never let them see you sweat.” This doesn't mean not to be vulnerable but to know that no matter how hard life gets, never succumb to defeat. There will be struggles, but always keep your head held high and your spirit unbroken. My mom has countless sayings and stories that are all enlightening, but these words are what keep me calm. My mom is the person who gave birth to me so everything she does is an inspiration to me, and these are the lessons that inspired a poem I wrote that I would like to share with all of you today. There is nothing that gets to your soul like spoken word.

The Seventh Sense

Remember what defines you, Remember your years of searching for yourself,
Remember the gallons of tears you have shed, and Remember the moments when you held your head high.
Hold on to that understanding of yourself, so that you can trust in your own judgement.
Some people can’t comprehend the complex calculus that derives themselves;
people are buried under self loathing, unaware of the diamond in the ruff;
they would rather be handcuffed like a slave to the judgements of society.
But I will never let outside judgment stop me from stepping into my own greatness.
And the only thing more dangerous than a hater,
Are the fakers who only tell you only what you want to hear,
A balance must be found between the harshness of reality and the false conception of a perfect world.
Good instructions are better than riches, but not if those instructions aren’t worth a dime.
It is up to you to define the difference between right and wrong;
Long to establish your own moral compass that will lead you in the right direction,
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because making mistakes is better than being fake,
Clouding your opportunities to relate and appreciate that which is within all of us.
I can see it in your eyes, dark with the depth of understanding,
An understanding of a truth that no one else could ever come to realize
Because it is the truth that defines you.

Let this be a reminder of the amount of time, effort, and sacrifice we have made to discover your our true selves. Nobody can ever take that away from you; you have an eternal flame inside you that can never be diminished.

I keep this piece of paper in my wallet. I keep it in there at all times as a memento of the wonderful experience that I had in my American Studies class. On this piece of paper are words about me from every person that was in that class. We all have similar papers that are full of our own unique messages, and for me it serves as a beacon of optimism, love, and pride. It’s unfortunate that Mrs. Irving, one of our teachers who unexpectedly passed away a year ago, was not able to write me a message, but she continues to teach me every day.

Through her gregarious nature, she enlightened my life in ways I could have never imagined. She opened my eyes to a new side of learning through simple conversations, and she motivated me to take my gift and share it with the world. That was why she was my sunshine, and her passing made me realize how to be truly successful in life.

I believe to be successful, you just have to realize that you have a light…a light that is different from all others, but equally bright. It’s the most important aspect of Quakerism that this institution could ever teach us. I know that each and every one of you will use your Light to illuminate something truly special in the world. Remember that the people you meet and the connections you make are your contributions towards making the world a better place; never forget that. I can look into all of your eyes and know that you have a dream, a dream you may have kept hidden from the world. You may have delayed it or been told that it wasn’t realistic. I need you all to know that you can no longer delay it: no more procrastination. We all have to live our dreams now because they are possible. See, this moment is precious; we have to be in it and make the most of it before it’s gone forever.

Our American Studies class knows that Mrs. Irving loved her some Denzel Washington... Can I get an AMEN… Whenever you mentioned him, she would always just swoon a little. He is a phenomenal actor, so I guess I can’t blame her. Denzel gave a speech where he quoted the analogy of failure from Les Brown. Brown says, “Imagine you are on your death bed and standing around your deathbed are the ghosts representing your unfulfilled potential, the ghosts of the ideas you never acted on, the ghosts of the talents you didn't use, and they're standing around your bed angry, disappointed, and upset. They say we came to you because you could have brought us to life, and now we have to go to the grave together. So I ask you today, how many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes?”

We are here at commencement; a time for us to celebrate being born anew. We are lucky enough to experience the rebirth of ourselves at the same time as the rebirth of our school. This 325th anniversary serves as the awakening for the young future of our community. We will change the world, we will fulfill our potential to succeed in society. So let us all renew our souls and chase away the ghosts that lurk in the darkness, and step into our light. Thank you. 

Penn Charter

A Friends School for Girls and Boys, Pre-K to 12

3000 West School House Lane Philadelphia, PA 19144 215.844.3460
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