WAYNE, NJ – Wayne Valley High School Salutatorian for the class of 2020, Andrew Paul is a unique individual, wise beyond his eighteen years, deep, precise and introspective. As the Salutatorian, Paul was expected to speak at his graduation, and because of the global pandemic, he had two graduations; one virtual and one live. Although the Valedictorian and Salutatorian at both Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley wrote wonderful speeches, Paul’s were far from typical, unique and noteworthy.
We have transcribed both for you here.
Paul’s first speech was given during a pre-recorded session that became a part of the Wayne Valley virtual graduation. This was released on the evening of June 18. You can watch the video here. Paul’s speech begins at the 5:17 mark.
To the dear class of 2020, the Board of Ed, teachers, staff, friends, parents, family: Thank you for being with me.
In our brief moment together, I don’t have for you a call to action.
Mine is a call to inaction.
To pull back the curtain on fixed expectations of graduation and sit between our former vision and the new one our world currently presents.
In the silence of inaction (the silence of rest) my experience has not wholly gotten easier or simpler, it has gotten richer. The quarantined period may be the richest of my life, because during it I’ve existed on my largest emotional range.
After years of unreleased and untold burdens and frustrations, I finally found myself crying.
The thing that opened me, and what our moment is made of, is mystery, whose essence is the rejection of certainty. Mystery works in several directions at once. It maintains richness for that reason—because it’s made of paradox; because it goes in several directions at once. The simplest example is that if you go closer to light, you also go closer to darkness. Consolation comes by this way by being equal to the moment of unclarity and loss. For the way we protect ourselves from loss may be the way in which we distance ourselves from life.
Yes, we have been robbed, in that we have lost many aspects of our lives without being asked, without license. But I disagree that this loss is purely a mistake, or purely a shame. Forced to lose the familiarities by which we define ourselves, we are forced to try on doubt. And when you try on doubt for a sustained time, you let yourself experience groundlessness, true non-expectation; mystery.
This area of being is neither good nor bad, because your ideas and senses of good and bad are shocked out of judgement. In this non-judging moment, you are being asked not to be anything, not someone or something, but just - to be. In many ways, you are freed of associations, of performances, of acts, of roles, of obligations, of relationships.
Rather than speak to you more surely or more clearly than I am experiencing this moment, I’d rather offer a more honest interpretation. Not as absolutely good, not as absolutely bad. This is the test of whether we can feel the pain and the pleasure at once, each in full, each purely, if we can allow the feeling of mystery and let it deepen us.
I wish you a future of deep and honest mystery
And for listening to my confusions, I thank you.
Paul’s second speech was given on July 8 during Wayne Valley’s official live graduation. You can watch the recorded stream of the graduation here. Paul’s speech begins at the 24:35 mark.
Hello again, to the reunited class of 2020, staff, Board of Ed, friends, administrators, family, everyone.
Last graduation, I spoke on mystery, and how it’s made of paradox, and that mystery was the entry into deepening ourselves. Well—though I spoke that point and composed words around it, it remained, for me, not quite learned.
A few days after that graduation, while reading, I found a similar idea. And I felt unanswerable to it. So, I thought the thing to do was to relearn.
And, surprised into presence, I could do no other than to immerse further, deeper into loss, until I reached a space just beyond myself.
When memory is incompatible with the moment, I didn’t know what else I could do.
Because it’s there, in the space just beyond yourself; between what is you and what is not you, you can (slowly) sort out your own voice from the rest of the thoughts, the rest of the sensations, emotions, interpretations, habits, and momentums that can overwhelm you. (You can find the you of you.)
In that combination of pressures, the shadows, kept covered for fear of unraveling our lives, can come out, and show us to us.
Here, you can become more whole. The relevance of taboo against knowing who you are…leaves. Those premature answers that you gave and give to questions of identity - answers that dismiss the unknown - they lose relevance too. And you can sink into an understanding that there is no one like you; there never was anyone like you; and there will never be anyone like you. And to therefore be yourself.
Our job is to feel. There’s pain for loss, and a seriousness that tries to wrest the good life from the world. But that’s right: to feel and risk your heart and be swallowed up. To bear the rhythm between wisdom and its loss, its security and its instability.
To enjoy that you are an expression of conflict in a larger harmony of conflicts.
If you relate to life this way, you can relieve the burdenous idea that you were supposed to be compatible with life, or with yourself, from the beginning.
Compatibility is not a precondition, it’s an accomplishment.
Class of 2020, my hope for you is that just some of these words can find places in you that you thought you had lost, or never knew you had. A phrase, an inflection, an idea, something that can sing in your mind during near total loss, when memory of people and places isn’t there, and all that’s left are just a few fragments of speech, a few floating bits of language.
My hope for you is: When the days go numb, and the wind sucks the world from your senses, you will be modest like a thing ripened. Ripened until it is real, and let lostness, for that moment, be your home.
For being lost with me, thank you.
And if this is actually our last graduation: a near goodbye.