June 4, 2009
Hope and Glory
An Excerpt from Jim Heffernan’s Speech to the 2009 Graduates
of Denfeld High School
Before we get down to business here, let me point
out that there have been reports that perhaps with all of the changes
planned for Duluth public schools, they might also seek to change
the name of Denfeld to something else – what, I don’t
know. Centfeld? Dentral?
Should the school's name be changed? What do you
think? (There was a rousing "no" from the audience.) Change
the name of Denfeld? I don’t think so.
This western Duluth high school has traditions
going back100 years, most of that time in this building called Denfeld,
and I believe it’ll be just fine for another 100 years with
the proud Denfeld name.
Now to our business. Commencement speakers are
notorious for saying things nobody remembers, and I expect that’ll
be the case again tonight. But we all try to say something that
might make an impression on the graduates, maybe one little gem
of a thought that a few students will remember for years to come.
Not that I remember anything said at my high school or college commencement
But still we try. I have a blog, and in preparation
for this evening, I asked people who visit my blog for suggestions
on what to say to the Denfeld class of 2009 before we send you out
into the so-called REAL world.
Here is one of the responses: A woman who graduated
40 years ago from another Duluth high school recalled that her class’
speaker told the grads that “in life there’s no free
lunch.” So I pass it on here, not as the main theme of these
remarks, but because it’s true, and a good thing to be aware
of. One way or another, you can plan on paying for everything you
get, and you’ll have to work to get it.
Serious stuff. All of the members of this graduating
class together with assembled family members and other well-wishers
know that you will walk out of here tonight into a troubled and
uncertain world, with some of the issues directly affecting your
future. What is now being called the Great Recession greets any
job hunting you are planning. Then there are wars on two fronts
that would have an impact on young people planning to join the military.
I was born into a very uncertain time –
the end of the Great Depression and the start of World War II. But
some 17 years later, when I sat on this stage in a cap and gown
thinking about what fun I was going to have celebrating later that
night, the United States had recovered from depression and war,
and the peaceful, prosperous world of the late 1950s awaited us.
Practically everything you bought – including
cars with huge tail fins – was stamped “Made in the
U.S.A.” and we never doubted that we would go out with our
diplomas in hand and make all of those things people in America
It’s different today. Jobs are scarce, and
young people who worked hard, or sometimes not so hard, for that
high school diploma are finding the real world is real difficult
to operate in, and that they’ll need something more. I’d
be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to stress the
importance of your getting further education – whether at
a university or a more jobs-oriented institution. I don’t
think there’s been a time in recent history that this is more
I realized sometime after I stumbled – and
I mean stumbled -- into a journalism career after drifting through
four years of college without any real plan for what I would do
after I got out -- that in order to get along in this world you’ve
got to BECOME something -- something specific: The best auto body
worker you can be, the best cosmetologist, the best accountant,
the best nurse or physician, the best rocket scientist or teacher,
the best musician or actor: something specific.
As someone put it colloquially, “If ya wanna
eat, ya gotta work.”
And as I’m putting it tonight: You might
as well work at something you enjoy and are good at. That doesn’t
mean you can’t follow your dreams. You should.
Recently in traffic I found myself behind a pickup
truck with a bumper sticker that read: “I used to have a life,
but my job ate it.” You don’t have to accept that fate.
I’m sure these words only echo what your
teachers and counselors have been telling you for four years here
at Denfeld, but it bears repeating on this, your last day of high
Twenty-one years ago this week, I sat in the Duluth
Arena as the East class of 1988 went through these exercises, my
daughter among them.
(As an aside, you’ll note that none of the
other Duluth high schools has an auditorium like this beautiful
one that can handle a full commencement. It’s one of the things
that makes Denfeld special.)
Anyway, on that long-ago evening, just as we experienced
it tonight, the class marched in to what most people simply think
of as the graduation song. My daughter is the eldest of my two children,
and someday most of you will understand better than you do tonight
the thoughts racing through your parents’ minds as they see
their children (sorry, they still think of you as children) finish
As a columnist for the Duluth newspaper at the
time, I tried to put my thoughts as my daughter graduated with the
class of 1988 into words to share with readers – largely inspired
by the so-called graduation song.
My daughter’s name is Kate, or Katie, so
I wrote a piece I called “One From the Heart For Katie ‘88”
that I recently included in a book I put out, and will share with
you this evening in hopes that some of the thoughts expressed are
Here’s one from the heart for all of you.
The column begins…
It’s the same for all of you tonight. (Here
comes the class of '09, world, they're full of hope. And here comes
the world, class of '09, it's full of glory.)
Congratulations, and good luck to all of you.