WEST CALDWELL, N.J. - James Caldwell High School Valedictorian Joseph Salter will be attending Princeton University in the fall of 2014.
During Thursday's JCHS graduation ceremony, Salter discussed facing challenges after college:
Finding a purpose is one of life’s most difficult challenges. But today, just now, moments ago, we all came together and found a purpose—to help a friend fight his battle. But that applause was not just for Steve Brown. It was for Mrs. Renzetti, for my grandmother, maybe your grandmother, for anyone fighting the same battle. We just applauded for a cure, for hope, for change. We applauded because we want to help fight the battle.
Everyday is a battle. Studying for a test, perfecting Shrek the Musical, getting to a state championship, raising environmental awareness. Everyone has a battle to fight. And what is unique is that the solution to every battle—big or small—is essentially the same.
My brother told me the story of a battle he faced in Africa last year, and I think it perfectly exemplifies the proper way to go about fighting a battle. Now this is a much less serious battle, because his biggest obstacle is his sense of direction. I mean, he can barely find Bloomfield Avenue from Bloomfield Avenue. So when he went to Africa for a year, he had some pretty good stories to tell. He and seven others had trekked to an extremely rural village in the country of Senegal. After an exhausting day, they had gone to sleep for the night. Early the next morning, before the sun came up, my brother was woken by the urge to relieve himself. He didn’t want to disturb the sleeping villagers, so he walked into the nearby forest—just 10 steps into the forest. After taking care of business, instead of turning around and walking ten steps back out of the forest, he walked deeper into the forest, and he kept on walking. It probably took him a few minutes to realize that he was lost in a deep, dark forest in rural Africa. But he continued walking, the wrong way, and began to wonder if these were his last moments on Earth. Finally, he reached a clearing and saw a village. Sadly, it was not his village. Now he was the valedictorian here a couple of years ago, so if any of you were under the impression that valedictorians are highly intelligent, I hope I cleared up any misunderstanding. At that point, two sleepy-eyed young boys approached him quizzically. My brother greeted them with a smile and they started giggling in a language he was unfamiliar with. After a lot of hand motions, my brother was able to convey to them which village he was from. The boys knew right away, and they peacefully and generously guided him back. Three hours had passed from the time he had first walked into the forest. But he made it back. Safe and sound.
My brother faces the everyday battle of never knowing where he is. The other day, he got lost in France for four hours. I think he’s in France, I don’t even know where he is half the time. But then again, neither does he. Wherever he goes, his fight requires trust. He trusted those two children to bring him back home. It requires courage. He remained brave as he wandered through the deep and dark forest. And it requires a positive attitude. Two roads diverged in a wood, and he definitely took the road less traveled. But he kept moving, optimistically hoping that he would get home. And he did. Oh and by the way, my brother definitely redeemed himself—you see, he waited over three months before he told our mother the story. She’s still recovering.
These past couple of weeks I have been able to step back and think about all the positive times from our four years here. I remember the final scene in Shrek, with the actors and actresses running down the aisle, singing and dancing to “I’m a Believer,” with every member of the audience on their feet, laughing, crying, singing, loving. I had never seen so much joy in a single room. I remember the crowd rushing onto the field after the Lodi football game, which put the Chiefs into the state championship. I had never seen so much excitement. And just last week, I remember every student walking the halls with an orange ribbon and a blue bracelet. I had never seen so much support.
And then I think of all the positive things that the future brings. Whether you’re staying in town, going off to college, or taking a year off, the future is bright. Try not to think, “why me?” when something bad happens, because sometimes life is unfair. Think, “why not me?” about something good that is waiting to happen. Face your battles, and make the best of them.
Now I'd like to take a moment to thank the members of the Board of Education, Dr. Heinegg, Dr. Barnes, our wonderful teachers, administrators, and staff for making our four years at JCHS fantastic. Most importantly, the graduating class of 2014 would like to thank their parents for their unconditional love and support throughout the past eighteen years.
I would like to leave you with a challenge. When you are faced with a battle, and the answer does not lie on Twitter, Tumblr, or Tinder, remember the three keys—trust, courage, and optimism—and you will triumph. Then ask yourself, “Why not me?” And if that doesn’t work, well, pull out the GPS. Thank you.