Hello friends. My name is Evva Starr. I’m an English teacher and the newspaper adviser here at Wootton High School. I am honored to be here with you all today – parents, teachers, administrators and most importantly, the Humanities students of the Class of 2017.
I was told that my speech today should be about what the humanities mean to me. Humanities are the “soft” sciences, and that’s often said disparagingly, as if the “hard” sciences – math, engineering, chemistry, computery stuff – are harder intellectually. Soft doesn’t mean easier, I believe it means gentler. What we study in the humanities – literature, history, psychology, sociology, art – is humanity. Nothing is harder than the study of humans and why we do what we do. It takes the study of all the branches of the humanities to try to understand human motivation. And it takes gentleness most of all. To understand each other, we must try to empathize with each other. And to have empathy, we must make ourselves soft. This softness, this gentleness, this openness, is the hardest task I know.
But what I really want to talk to you about is not what the humanities mean to me, but what they mean to you.
Each of you decided, four-ish years ago, that the regular course of study here at Wootton High School, just wasn’t enough for you. You decided to do more – to challenge yourself with specialized, more challenging courses, to write a lengthy research paper, often with a creative component, which would require over a year of dedication, and to sit with a panel of teachers and subject yourself to excruciating critique. You did this not for glory, or praise, or money, but for the love of the humanities. You probably didn’t even know what that meant when you signed up, but you knew somewhere deep down that studying our species was a worthy pursuit. You were right, and you now know that the reward is your own satisfaction that you pushed yourself and you rose to the challenge. That reward might not buy you a Unicorn Frappuccino, but it’s also the only reward worth anything at all.
But what humanities really means to you, is Mrs. Hanson. I’m not sure if you all know this, but Michelle Hanson made up this program, and she runs it entirely on her own, not for glory, or acclaim or money, but because she believes that teaching you how to study our species is a worthy pursuit. Her reward is seeing you each rise to that challenge. Her reward is you.
It is said that being a parent means forever having your heart go walking around outside your body. I know you don’t understand that yet, but you will, when you are parents someday. The inverse is also true. As your parents’ child, you forever walk around with a piece of their heart inside of you. Kind of like a phone tracker, but a lot less creepy and invasive.
Being a teacher is like that too. I know I speak for Mrs. Hanson, and for the dozens of teachers who have guided you over these past four years, when I tell you that we have given you a piece of our hearts, for you to carry forever inside of your own. Our own study of the humanities has always started with the study of you.
To the Class of 2017, as you go forth in your study of the humanities, remember that to try to understand each other, we must make ourselves soft. When you feel yourself stiffening under the burden of hard work and disagreement, I hope you will think back to today and remember that you already know how to do this. You know because you’ve already done it. Congratulations and best wishes.