Earlier this month, a South Carolina high school valedictorian stepped up to the microphone to make his speech. He’d discussed his proposed remarks with school officials and they had approved what he told them he was going to say. When his moment arrived, he visibly ripped his prepared remarks to shreds and began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
Don't mistake silence for lack of conviction. Photo Credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / limbi007
Days later, a Joshua High School valedictorian from Texas got his moment as well. He’s been accepted into the naval academy and has a passionate love of his country and also elected to go “off script” and speak about the Constitution and our freedom of speech. Ironically his microphone was cut off and the remainder of his speech was only audible to the first two or three rows of on-lookers.
Reportedly this little impromptu phenomenon caught on and others tried to use this valedictory podium for similar agendas throughout the country; not really surprising given a young high school graduate’s first moment of holding a real audience captive and being able to make a little history in this YouTube-laden society. But one part of the phenomenon that went sort of “unreported” was the part that fascinated me the most.
Now, I can’t speak for the other events that followed the first two, but the reports of those initial episodes included one very stark fact -- each speaker was treated to rousing and enthusiastic rounds of applause.
So what does that mean?
Clearly the speakers had points of view that were supported and clearly the applauders experienced some freedom in releasing what appears to be some pent up emotions about expressing their opinions; opinions that seemed to have been repressed. Perhaps that repression is simply out of respect or to not rock the boat or cause a political discussion, but to me it’s like the thing that someone you care about blurts out in the heat of an argument.
You ever experience that?
Perhaps you and your friend are in the middle of an animated argument and the pace has become like a tennis match and you are virtually trading insults but both of you are being careful not to cross a certain line. Then all of a sudden someone says something that’s a little more true, a little closer to the bone and the back and forth comes to an abrupt halt.
”Wait, what did you say?”
Then the insulter tries to back off because he/she knows he went too far. “What? What did I say? You know what I meant. ”
“No, no, no did you say everyone said I was wrong? Are you saying everyone has already talked about this behind my back?”
See? Now the tension is at its peak and the truth has burst through and changed the dynamic of the discussion completely. It is no longer about the argument topic, rather it is about the things that didn’t get said, the stuff that’s felt deep inside.
And that’s what I perceive this smattering of enthusiastic applause was; coming from an audience of high school kids, with their parents and grandparents mixed in. Maybe they were sick of hearing politicians talk in circles, tired of hearing news stories of disrespect for our country, saddened to hear about any faith-based custom being overruled; people heard a young man speak out and applauded in support. Their unspoken words would have been, “You tell them,” or “You’re darned right! Tell ‘em kiddo!”
Now let’s check back in with our arguing friends. The discussion is over and both go their separate ways. What’s been learned and what’s been achieved? Well, we learned that there may be more down deep inside each other that’s felt about each other that’s not being said.
Now, we can choose to ignore that or argue when it’s in our face or we can choose to do something about it. See, we can modify our behavior. On one side, we can be more open about how we feel, and on the other side, we can be more aware of and more receptive to how other people feel.
If the audiences in South Carolina and Texas are any indication of where we stand as a nation, I think the people that conduct popularity polls ought to start looking at a whole new demographic who used to be called the “silent majority.” With the power of the responses I mentioned above, those folks sure seem to be making a comeback.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .