Commencement Address: Kiernan Aiston
Thank you Dr. Flemma, Board of Trustees, faculty, parents, family, and friends. Thank you, Roy, for your kind words, and most of all a big thank you to the Class of 2017.
Even though commencement, by its very name, is an event designed to look forward, I want to begin by looking back for a few moments.
I am, after all, a history teacher.
Several years ago, while my mom descended a boulder field in a rainstorm, she slipped and fell over a 20-foot cliff, landing on her head. Miraculously, she broke no bones. She is, in fact, here today. Hi mom. And though she grew large black rings around the eyes, she suffered no lasting physical effects. I bring this up because once my mom had ended a protracted period of looking very much like a raccoon, and it became clear that she would indeed be fine, my wife said something about the accident that has since become something of a family motto. “Safety second”, she said.
Not safety first. Safety second.
She meant it humorously, obviously, but her statement carried just enough truth to stick. Before long, we were applying it retroactively so that it began to seem like “safety second” had somehow always been the Aiston family motto.
Much of this is ludicrous. Which explains, in my family, at least, why it stuck. It’s even more ludicrous as a piece of advice.
To be clear: I am in no way espousing a way of looking at the world that has left me with more stitches than I can count...
So here’s why I bring it up. As I thought more deeply about it, I realized that it’s always been safety second, all on it’s own. And so, I began to wonder. If safety does indeed come second...What comes first?
At varying times in my life, it has been fun first, adventure first, writing first, and so on. But each of them was fleeting.
So I set off on a mission to find what really comes first, and I’m happy to report that I think I have discovered it.
Before I share my discovery with you, though, I want to tell a quick story about what was most important to me when I was exactly your age--what “came first” as I pulled on my cap and gown- -because that dead-end, it turns out, reveals important lessons about college and beyond.
A little over twenty years ago and a little less than twenty miles north of here, I found myself in your position and I can say with certainty (and embarrassment) that, at that moment in my life, football came first. The day before, the headmaster had handed me an NCAA Scholar-Athlete award and then spoken at length about my “gifts.” This should have made me more uncomfortable than it did.