By Chloe Gellert
Class of 2012
Let me begin by announcing that the title of this speech is Failure and Mediocrity. I don’t say this to be gloomy, and I certainly hope to be more interesting and optimistic than the title promises, but because the audience has a right to know. After all, why on earth- in a time of triumph- bring up our failures? Why not enumerate the many successes: why not talk about the historic run of the Lady Blue Devil’s Basketball team, our state champion girls cross country team, our production of the Phantom of the Opera, our Scholastic Art and Writing Award recipients? After all, if it exists, someone out on this lawn has a talent for it. But I’m not going to go into all that. I’m sure all of our greats will be commemorated in someone else’s speech. The successes have been recognized enough. Indeed it is time, ladies and gentlemen, to recognize the unnoticed and to celebrate our defeats.
Webster’s College Dictionary defines being medicore as being “neither very good nor very bad; ordinary, average.” Failure is “the act of failing… specifically, falling short” or “a not succeeding in doing or becoming.” I’m going to redefine these terms for all, because that doesn’t begin to cover it. Mediocrity is the state of being unrecognized and blending in. And failure is not the absence of success, but the presence of mortifying, excruciating, flat-falling defeat. Failure is when one tries at something and doesn’t get the ribbon, the award, the name on the board. Failure is something that results in agony, and is often stuffed under the couch in the hope no one notices, like a dirty little secret. Let me give an example by announcing an extreme failure on my part: I was rejected by six out of the nine colleges I applied to. Denied. Before now, I have told all of four people, and I’d hoped to the dear Lord that everyone else would forget to ask. Or at least I was hoping.
Then I considered why I felt ashamed. Where is the shame in failure? Failure means one tried something hard. It means someone took aim at a bulls-eye they wouldn’t necessarily hit; it means they are ambitious; it means they can see the odds stacking neatly against themselves, acknowledge the likely loss, and then go for it anyways, nails pressing crescents into their palms, teeth grit like the jaws of a hot steel trap for the ride. Failure is when all that effort seems to pay off for nothing. But this is about as true as the dictionary definition- the important points are being missed. Losing is a lesson in bigness of spirit and grace. It is much harder to lose well than to win well. A loser must swallow the bitter salted gall of defeat and envy as the hot eyes of the watchers look right through them to someone else. A loser must then smile through this, and move through this rotten muck to suffer, burn, heal, and eventually, gain the heart to try again. One who has lost twice has more than twice the grit of winners who never fail. Staying up is easier than falling and getting up again. A loser gains an ability to smile through pain, work for no physical return, and get off the ground without a medal to prop oneself up. The winner… gets a medal.
The same principle applies to mediocrity. If one is nothing but average at something… why bother? Why go through all the effort and spend so much time for such little return- economically it’s an unsound principle. No dividends get paid; no great feats to add to your name- so why bother? Does it even matter…? It does. Like failure, being mediocre takes grace and grit and self-empowerment. There are no trophies waiting for you at the end of the tunnel. You slog through that tunnel just the same as any national champion but there’s physical emptiness at the end. You must run on your own steam, for your own private applause for yourself. There’s only one person in the world that needs to recognize your efforts and applaud them, and that’s you. And that is self-empowerment. My varsity letters from track and cross country are from experience only; four seasons of track and two of cross country and I never earned enough points to win a letter. I play viola and violin and am mediocre at both; my intonation is uncertain, I was sixth chair for most of my senior year, ranked lower than four sophomores and I played out of tune for my failed Tri-M audition. I don’t have the talent to take either of these things anywhere, and I am always lumped into the “everyone else” category. Yet still I run, still I play. I don’t do these things for recognition or awards or because I thought they’d be easy- if I did, boy would I be disappointed! I do these things because they’re worth it to me, and that’s good enough for anyone.
So I implore you all to embrace Failure and Mediocrity as you would old buddies at a reunion, and do not be ashamed of them. Let them shine like diamonds, right next to your many successes. Don’t quit something because you’re not good at it; don’t give in because you must paddle your own boat. Don’t let your dreams be taken away because you assume you’re not good enough. Don’t be afraid to do something you may fail at- my classmates, these scrapes teach us what is the most important to know! Defeats and Mediocrity are medals of valor and power, to those that know to look for them.
So dive into the bottomless future, Blue Devils. And if you don’t reach the bottom, keep swimming. Do it grandly. Do it gloriously. But do it for you.