Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 6, 2009


Tampa Bay - When Jem Lugo sat down to write her valedictory graduation speech, the Springstead High School senior tried to keep it real for her peers in the Class of 2009.

Lugo, an 18-year-old Spring Hill resident bound for Harvard University, had read speeches on the Internet and watched others on YouTube. The senior class president and yearbook editor was struck by their formulaic sameness - same jokes, same quotes, same inspirational messages.

The student who once stood before the Hernando County School Board to oppose a proposed dress code for high school students decided to give a speech that would be, as she describes it, "worth hearing."

But Lugo, who earned an unweighted 3.98 grade-point average, says she made it much too real for school officials who work with valedictorians each year to ensure their graduation speeches are appropriate. Lugo says Springstead principal Susan Duval rejected the address and told her to start over. Lugo says that the senior class sponsor, who read the speech first, used the word "appalled."

On Thursday, Springstead's graduation day, Lugo read another, shorter speech that did garner approval.

But it isn't Lugo's, she told the St. Petersburg Times in a letter this week.

"Graduation is no longer about the students at all. It's about the school, proudly presenting another fine batch of perfectly acceptable programmed graduates to the rest of the community," she wrote. The new speech, she added, "is not me."


Springstead High School's class of 2009. Look around you. This is it.

No more essays, no more FCAT, no more required reading. We survived 13 grueling years of school, all for this moment, where we get to wear gowns that kind of remind me of a silk version of a Snuggie, and these hats that make every single one of us look absolutely ridiculous. Hate to break it to you, but no one looks good in these hats. Even you, Ben Noury.

So, I was stuck with this arduous task of extra writing to create this speech, and I decided to make this different. I'm not gonna get up here and start spouting these crazy incomprehensible seven syllable words I probably can't even pronounce. Why would I want to do that? Last time I checked, we're done with school. We don't want to think anymore. I would never, ever put you all through that pain. Another thing, nobody in speeches ever tells you what you actually need to know in life. They stand up here and gush about these lofty, inspirational concepts that are supposed to make you feel all warm and gooey inside. You know, I could stand up here and tell you all that I have a dream for this class, that among us are future doctors, lawyers, maybe even the next president, and you guys need to go out there and seize the day! Carpe diem! But really, what good would that do you? How much help will my words be when you wake up tomorrow, and realize that it truly is over? The babied path that's been set out for you since you were born has ended. You've left the womb, the cord's been cut, congratulations, welcome to your life. Your choices actually matter now, and your future is finally in your own hands. Sure, telling you to seize the day sounds impressive, but how are you going to know how to seize it?

Instead, I'm going to remind you of some basic concepts you can actually apply to your life. Crazy, right?

First off, get money. You can't do anything without money. Do something with your life where you're able to have a steady, reliable, source of income. Gamers, I'm sorry, but farming for gold in World of Warcraft is not considered a reliable or socially-acceptable source of income.

Second, after you have your money, be sure to pay your taxes. I hear the IRS can get pretty nasty with tax avoiders.

Also, don't get arrested. Sure, the jail lifestyle might seem like a luxury nowadays, but in 20 years, when you're going for that top-notch CEO position, that misdemeanor you got for stealing a street sign with your friends might just come back and bite you in the butt.

Moreover, take some time in your life to stand up for something. Whether it's a stance for pro-choice, religious debate, vegetarianism, or even something as simple as cleaner bathrooms, just make sure your voice is heard. It feels good to stick it to The Man every once in awhile.

And though you will be earning your steady income with your job, make sure not to waste your entire life working. You're making this money for a reason. Use it to have some fun. Go out and party. Use all of your vacation days. Use it to travel. Explore the world. Free yourself from the monotony of the workforce. I promise you, having fun will keep you sane.

Be sure to have that one person or thing that makes you smile whenever you see it. I'm not going to put on an act and tell you you're future's going to be peachy. No, life is gonna suck sometimes. Believe me, you're gonna need that one thing in your life that can always brighten your day, whether it's a significant other, a dog, a lava lamp, or the blankie you've had since you were a baby. Hey, whatever it takes to smile.

A few other basics to remember. Always say please and thank you; it's always appreciated. Wash your hands when you leave the bathroom; you'd be surprised how many people don't. Listen to your gut instinct and your conscience. When there's a choice between the little angel on one side, and the little devil on the other, please listen to the angel. Respect your elders, because one day, you'll be old too. Plus, they might leave you something in their will. Don't treat spelling and grammar check as a God. It definitely misses things. If you ever achieve any sort of fame or acclaim in your life, don't mess it up. Think Michael Phelps and Britney Spears. And if your mother would not approve of your actions, then you probably shouldn't be doing it. Don't believe everything you hear or read, and definitely don't click on every link someone sends you. Some of us have learned that the hard way. Countless times, I've been duped into clicking links that sent me to the music video of "Never Gonna Give You Up." I'm not sure if I'll ever properly get that song out of my head.

But, the most important thing that I can tell you tonight is to remember where you came from. You were an eagle once. We've been through four long years here. Some of us have loved it, some of us have hated it, but we all had to endure it, and for all of us, it's finally over. What's Springstead going to be like without us? The academic world is going to be missing some of its top performers, and the sports are going to be hurting without some of their best players. Mr. Pennington is not going to know what to do without his core group of seniors that are graduating. No one's going to be rampaging through the hallways, brandishing signs with their name. . .

When it all comes down to it, we're made for bigger things than this. We're going to get out of here, and we're going to live our lives, no doubt about that. Just remember to keep in touch. You'll regret it if you don't. As I said, there are hard times ahead. There are times where you'll just sit there and think to yourself, "Man, I lost the game." Times like that when you're going to need a friend. Don't throw away the friendships you've made here. One of these people might be able to get you a job someday, or might be able to lend you a helping hand. Life is all about connections.

Now I've been talking long enough. We're all dying to just get this over with. So I'm going to resort to a cliche ending, and quote one of the most influential men of all time, Freddie Mercury. "Just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of here." Congratulations class of 2009, we did it!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why all the attention for such a mediocre speech?

June 6, 2009 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll tell you what is wrong with it: it makes the faculty look like schmucks, if that is all she got out of four years of "higher" learning. LOL

June 6, 2009 8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congrats to Ms. Lugo for not stringing together a bunch of butt-kissing cliches and sleep-walking her way thru a pre-approved performance , as per the usual grad speech.

Wow, she figures out the most important thing about surviving exposure to organized education...keep your wits about you and don't forget you can always think for yourself if you'd prefer, and she gets panned for it by a couple of dim-bulb PR readers. ( of all people and places! )

Cast off your chains, for heaven's sake, if a kid can do it so can you. Lucky for the rest of us citizens somebody got churned out of the business end of one of our high schools and actually has a functioning intellect, a helping of strength of character to go with it , and a large measure of common sense , to boot !! No doubt , one or two schmucks in the faculty lent her a helping hand , somewhere along the way.

Nice bonus that she was smart enough to leave their names out of it, possibly saving their jobs from reflexive retaliation at the hands of the same well oiled machine that tried to put the clamps on her .

- kudos to a gutsy grad, John A. Joslin ( Detroit )

June 6, 2009 3:32 PM  
Blogger lodesterre said...

What is truly so appalling about her speech is that there is nothing original about it, it simply sounds like the kind of typical chatter you would hear students making at the lunch table. It would have been different if her "insights" showed signs of life but her cliches are no more "enlightening" than anything one usually hears at these events. But, typical of her generation, the over-watched, over-indulged, "aren't-you-wonderful-for-being-you generation, she mistakes her trite, vapid comments as some kind of greater, alternative wisdom. Sad. Pathetic. I don't know what the replacement speech may have sounded like but anything is better than her dreck. She reminds me of people who watch rock stars or stand-up comics and thinks "I could do that". Well, she can't.

June 7, 2009 10:34 AM  
Anonymous you can't blame the youth said...

Now we see loadocrap's problem . She/he's a teacher which means she/he took the safe path, siding with an establishment which eats its young to preserve its fat content and is never so irked as when the young rebel against the crap she/he's digested and turned into more crap.
Marlon Brando in "One-eyed Jacks","Yore a real one-eyed jack around here,Dad, but I seen the other side of yore face",

June 7, 2009 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's weird to even see this speech highlighted here at ProRev. What did you see in it, Sam, that made you think it should be read more widely? I have no wish at all to target this rather childish-seeming young woman for disparagement, but I agree the speech mostly ranges from unoriginal mediocrity to, yes, outright unenlightening dreck.

June 8, 2009 7:45 AM  
Blogger Nicholas said...

i don't think it was the most incredible speech but it definitely wasn't horrible. this life or society we've enslaved our selves to isn't that complicated but its a bitch and i think thats the speech writers point who is just a kid. Its pretty down to earth and makes sense and isn't all fluffy and fake. you guys that are sipping your coffee sitting there scoffing at the speech are the losers. thats the point find joy in your life and don't take shit so seriously. The life the faculty and the establishment have planned for us sucks. you're all gold mines and they want to deplete you so create your joy when and however you can and hey .... for starters relax its just a high schoolers speech...case in point how could you take it so seriously? stress kills you lose.

June 8, 2009 1:17 PM  

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