|I forgot I had lost the floppy disk the speech was on until I found this article from the local paper|
The Things They Carried, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, left an indelible mark on me in my adolescence. I was introduced to the book in high school by one of the most influential people in my life- my Creative Writing and English teacher, Jeff White. I was enthralled by the book immediately, and each short story and character made a lasting impression, my favorite being "On the Rainy River," where O'Brien spends some time with a man in the north woods and makes a decision to fulfill his draft requirement instead of jumping ship and fleeing to Canada. Having a brother and a father who were both West Pointers and are now decorated Army veterans, I found myself in the author's shoes and having an imaginary struggle about what I would have done in his shoes.
For your enjoyment, I would like to share the speech I wrote for the Deerfield High School Graduating Class of 1998. I decided not to edit it, so it is slightly embarrassing, considering it was written at age sixteen. Don't get me wrong, attending high school in an upper-class suburb of Chicago has absolutely nothing in common with serving in Vietnam, but at the time, it seemed like an appropriate title for the speech. I look forward to sharing more about the event afterwards.
The Things We Carried
1998 Deerfield (Illinois) High School Graduation Class Speech
Good evening- Dr. Hanson, Principal Scornavacco, the Board of Education, teachers, parents, friends, my fellow graduates, the Class of 1998. My name is Kristian Strom and these are the things we carried.
The first day of school I carried a backpack full of pencil and binders, a Chandlers full of dates waiting to be filled with homework assignments, and a copy of Catcher in the Rye. I was the new kid. My dad was in the Army. We had lived in places like Germany, Spain and Israel. Deerfield was the seventh school I had attended. The last was a private Catholic school in Virginia. Most of the people were conservative and preppy. Here, there were preps, punks, jocks, skaters and all the in-betweens. I knew no one. I was known as “Virginia Boy.” People would give me funny looks in the hallway. Stacy Seidler even asked if I would come over and “harvest her corn” or “fix her tractor.” I tried to explain that I was from the other part of Virginia. At least they were nice about it.
I remember eating lunch on the first day. Sitting in the back carrels of the library, eating, alone. I remember eating lunch on the second day. Nick Senese carried a blue backpack with his band’s name, “The Dynomites”, sewed into the fabric. He asked if I needed a place to sit. In that invitation I saw a kindness that was not ordinary among kids my age. I learned that day that the students at Deerfield were a reflection of the things they carried.
As Freshmen, we carried a fear of Seniors through the hallway, until we realized that we didn’t fit into a locker room or trash can.
There was a shy girl who carried hope for next year and short boy who carried a tape measure. Only a few of us carried confidence.
Sophomore year, the guys didn’t part their hair on the side anymore and the girls didn’t get rides to school from their moms. Coolness was important.
I carried a beat up copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in the back pocket of my wrinkled khakis. I wanted to be on the highway, chasing women and dreams. Two years later, my English teacher, Mr. White, would teach me how to do just that by sitting at a desk and writing.
Mike Saewitz carried a copy of the school paper underneath all of his books. He would write columns out in the courtyard, inspired by the comings and goings of the students. Two years later, he would become the editor of the school newspaper.
During the basketball season, Johnny Lyons carried a Scottie Pippen basketball card inside his backpack. Two years later, he would be the starting point guard on the basketball team.
Junior year, we carried the weight of an almost unbearable workload. It was the year you had to impress the college of your choice.
We carried bags under our eyes; proof of our late hours and endless cups of mocha at Barnes and Noble.
Greg Malek carried a TI-82 with games like Tetris and Frogger. He played them after he finished a Calculus test in Mr. Fitzgerald’s class.
Caroline Mao carried the badminton birdie that she had won her first match with in the sixth grade. The birdie brought her luck. Everyone had their superstitions.
Smelly gym clothes. Lucky hats. A favorite pair of blue jeans.
Jordy Hertzberg ate two desserts on the days of a math test.
Anne O’Donnell wore her lucky blue shoes on the days of Mrs. Weatherby’s in-class essays.
This year, our Senior year, we carried only the bare necessities. We left our books in our lockers and came down with a severe case of Senioritis.
We carried love letters and half chewed pieces of gum in our pockets.
We carried the brown bag lunches our mothers still made for us.
We carried the keys to our cars: our Jeeps, our beat up Chevys, our 1986 Honda Accords.
On the last day, we carried our year books to all of our classes, asking people we remembered from freshmen year to sign. “Remember the time when you were my lab partner and we had to dissect a frog. I got real nauseous and barfed all over you,” or, “I cannot believe we have been friends since the second grade. Time flies when you’re having fun. Is the treehouse we made in your backyard still even there?”
So now we have a book full of memories. Each face we look at in the yearbook carries a certain weight; each memory carries a certain sadness, and a certain joy.
Many of us are staying in Illinois for college.
Most of us are staying in the Midwest.
Some of us will be going straight into the workforce.
A few are going to places like California and Massachusetts.
Ten years from now, we are going to be even more spread out. Mirhee Kim displaying her paintings in a New York art gallery. Ariel Sznajder in Uruguay cooking over an open flame. Justin Goldstein in Israel studying ancient history. Brad Gold will be at a business meeting fixing his tie, and in between his Nutri-Grain bar and gulping down his coffee, he will remember the breakfast he shared with Mr. Scornavacco, a man who truly cared. Then someone will notice an article about Mrs. Kaplan running for the presidency in French Polynesia. We will look at the faces in our yearbook and remember-
“Jason Weitzman could suck Jello into his nose with a straw.”
“Jim Collins could really play the saxophone.”
Or “Jason Merz could burp the entire Star Spangled Banner.”
Ten years from now, when some of us will be trying to raise our own children, we will remember our parents and all they have done for us.
Throughout our four years, we carried heavy backpacks filled with novels, assignments and textbooks. We carried sports bags with cleats, water bottles, and dirt. We carried guitars, trombones, and flutes. We carried the responsibility of our education. We carried the joys of friendship and adventure, along with the sorrows of loss.
We will remember the face of Mr. Morenz- a man who was so alive. We will remember the “Deerfield air” that we once breathed in every morning on our way to the school on Waukegan Road, with the windows rolled down. We will think about life, and our lives, and what we have made of them. Some of us will be artists, some will work many long hours each week, working hard to make the rent, others will be coaches of little league baseball teams. We will all now be graduates of Deerfield High School- a reflection of the things we carried.