Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ezra's Class of '10 Oration

Many years ago I heard a wonderful story — it was a story about a young boy. The young boy came from a small village in a lush and beautiful valley. The boy was the most talented child the village had ever seen. Sadly, the day came when the boy’s needs grew beyond what the village had to offer him so the village elders decided to send him to learn from the Wisest man in all the land. It was a sad day when the village sent the boy away, but it was also filled with great hope. There were tears as the boy left, and his friends and family cried unabashedly, but they sent him with enough supplies to get to the Wise man’s home high up in the mountains. The boy trekked for many days, and many weeks until at last he arrived high up in the mountains and saw just beyond the next hillock a sprawling community.

As he entered the community all around him he saw amazing things: he saw artists, thespians, philosophers, musicians, mathematicians, athletes, and many other talented and wonderful people scattered throughout. Slowly he found his way to the Wise Man and there he saw a long line of people waiting for the man’s sage advice. He waited for days until at last he came to the wise man and explained his situation. He told him that he had come to learn many things, but above all desired the secret to happiness. The wise man listened attentively to the boy, and when he was finished the Wise man smiled, “At the moment, I don’t have the time to tell you the secret to happiness,” the Wise man said, handing the boy a spoon filled with oil, “However, go and take this spoon of oil and wander through my home. When you return I will have time to impart to you the secret of happiness.” The boy, eager to impress the Wise man, sets off taking note of all the marvels in the Wise man’s home. Finally, the boy returns to the Wise man and proudly tells him all that seen and learned, but the Wise man only looks at the boy’s spoon and asks, “Alas, where is the oil I had placed in your spoon?” The boy, with a sinking feeling, looks down and sees that the oil is gone. In the excitement, he had completely forgotten to keep an eye on his oil. The Wise man, seeing this in the boy’s eyes, fills his spoon with oil and says, “Go and wander through my home, but this time remember not to spill the oil.”

Relieved, the boy once again sets off, making his way through the many gardens and staircases of the Wise man’s grounds, but this time doesn’t take his eyes off the oil once. Finally, the boy returns to the Wise man proudly holding his spoon filled with oil. “Well,” says the Wise man, “tell me everything that you have seen.” The boy looks confusedly up at the Wise man and replies, “Nothing, I have seen nothing.” The boy had been concentrating so hard on the oil in his spoon that not once did he look and observe the world around him. The Wise man then says, “Do not look sad child, for therein lies the secret to happyness: to see all the marvels of the world, but never forget the oil in your spoon.”

Apart from being a particularly fun story to tell, the story of the boy and his spoon of oil runs many parallels with our own lives. Out of respect for your intelligence I’m not going to spell those similarities out as I have always felt a good story leaves room for a certain breadth of interpretation. However, I will say that in the Wise man’s final words of advice to the young boy lies a nugget of gold — a piece of advice that we can all carry with us.

He was completely wrong about his advice being the secret to happiness, but only because there is no secret to happiness. Happiness is so much more complex and intricate then the majority of what we deal with in life — it’s not as simple as a math formula, (sorry Dick Peller), nor as neat and organized as a grocery list, (sorry Mom and Dad), or as clear cut as rules and regulations, (my most sincere apologies here, deans). It has no secret; to a certain degree, happiness is a myth. Its not something you have or you don’t have — its something you choose to be. No, the secret to happiness wasn’t the nugget of gold that the Wise man imparted to us. Rather, the nugget of gold that he gave to the young boy and I give to you, Class of 2010, was this: essentially, in life, do all that you want to do, be all that you want to be, but live a life of balance.

Balance is what makes life truly worth living — it enriches the best moments and life, but also subdues the worst. Balance isn’t seeing everything in Wise man’s home, but forgetting the oil in your spoon nor is it keeping the oil in your spoon, but seeing nothing of the marvels of the world. It is learning how to keep both the oil in your spoon and seeing the marvels of the world. For everyone both the marvels of the world and the oil in their spoon are different and this is where I will let the story have its room for interpretation, but remember that no matter how many wonders there are to marvel at in the world there is always room for a little bit of oil.

When I was in Middle School my science teacher gave me another nugget of gold. She told me that life is a little bit like a jar. And in that jar we have three ingredient: we have rocks, we have sand, and we have water. Each one represents a different thing. The rocks symbolize the aspects to life that you have to do; these are things like going to early morning classes, paying taxes, buying groceries, and, of course, Saturday night restriction. These take up a large part of the jar, so you put them in your jar and there is a little less than half the jar left. But next up we have the sand, sand represents a combination of things in life. They are a combination of things you sort of have to do, but you sort of want to do as well; things like going to Alumni for breakfast, checking SWIS, and applying to college. Now once you have put sand in your jar there is usually very little room left. Luckily, the last item in the jar is water. Water represents everything in life that you love to do: hanging out with friends, going to Greenfield, stir-fry day in the dining hall, and workjob. And the greatest thing about water is that no matter how little room you have left in your jar there is always room for a little bit of water.

Balance your jar as much as you can. Never let your jar be made of only rocks. Don’t work your whole life only to realize that your not sure what your working for, as the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” I can’t really say it better than that, but also don’t have a jar filled with only water. As great as that sounds, a life of only water would be a little bit like living in the ocean — after a while the scenery gets a little boring. Fun is no longer that much fun, and when that happens you know you’re in real trouble.

Everyone’s answer to everything these days is, “Live life bro!” We love to make “living life” an excuse for not doing what we should be doing, but “living life” isn’t that simple. Living life is exactly what the Wise man was trying to get at. “Live life bro!” but live life meaningfully, live a balanced life. Don’t use it as an excuse to not have to write that essay on a Monday night, well at least not every Monday night. There is a time to work and there is a time to party. But Class of 2010 I am very proud to be able to tell you that after twelve years of grueling schooling, after twelve years of trials and tribulations, after twelve years of challenging workloads lets “live life!” Tonight let’s party.

Before that though, I just have one last thing to say to you. Class of 2010, if there is one thing that you take away from what I’ve said I hope it is this: you are some of the most amazing people I have ever met. Each and every one of you have filled my jar with water on a day-to-day basis and for that reason I will forever be grateful.

You truly have been the closest thing to the Wise man’s house I have ever come across.

Thank you very much.

Editor’s Note: This speech qualified Ezra Leslie as one of five finalists for Class Orator and was presented on May 4 at 8 pm in the Rhodes Arts Center as part of the selection process.

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