The search for the meaning of life

Published 10:20am Thursday, May 29, 2014

Editor’s Note: Today, The Daily Leader begins publication of area high school valedictorian and salutatorian graduation speeches. The following address is from Mississippi School of the Arts Salutatorian Rita Albert. 

 Welcome fellow classmates, faculty, parents, friends, and family (especially those who traveled from out-of-state) to this significant endeavor we have all envisaged, this special moment we have all been anticipating-Mississippi School of the Art’s class of 2014 graduation.

Since I have been studying literary arts for the past two years, I thought it would be suitable to tell you all a story. So, once upon a time, on a late Thursday evening while the sun was still nestling into the shoulder of the horizon just before the stars erupted like freckles against night’s black cheek, I asked Siri, “What is the meaning of life?” She told me, “I don’t know, but I think there’s an app for that.”

Urban dictionary said, “You’re not going to find it here,” and Monty Python said, “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.” Wikipedia, ironically, has the most reliable answer. It defined the meaning of life as “a philosophical question concerning the significance of life or existence in general.”

Many people have wondered about life’s meaning and attempted to provide a logical explanation. From a religious stand point, the answer would be “to serve God and to gain entrance into Heaven.” Scientists say that we were only created to procreate. Douglas Adams, an English author, says, “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.”

Despite these insightful presumptions, all I know is that, once upon a time, we were all just babies, and the only meaning our life had was the love and dependency on our parents. Once upon a time, we were four years old trying to make friends, not wetting the bed, and yelling to Dora “The bucket is right there!” “Where?” “THERE! Oh my god, are you deaf?”

Once upon a time, we were ten, hoping our parents would finally let us have our first sleepover and maybe watch one of those forbidden Pg-13 movies. Once upon a time, we were freshmen trying to figure out who we were, where we belonged, how to get rid of acne, and ask out our first crush. Once upon a time, we got our first job, finally got to play in a varsity game, and ran stop signs and red lights because we were too busy trying to figure out how iPhones worked. Once upon a time, we moved away from home-our families and friends-to learn more about the art we loved most.

Once upon a time, we stayed up until three in the morning to work on art projects, ranted to Mrs. Elkins about the rules, went broke because we ate out every day of the week, couldn’t afford enough gas to get home, stressed out because we had twenty different college deadlines, watched the winter Olympics instead of learning the Canterbury Tales, counted the days until graduation, and finally, learned what a hash tag was.

#memories #lovingmylits #Veronica’swhitegirllaugh #BrandonKeeneytripledogdaredmetoputhiminmyspeech #tripstoJanies #Scholasticsstress #Mrs.BrittistotallyEllenDegeneres #Goodmorninglovelypeople #Mrs.Dot #visualhands #dancerfeet #theatre’sStaggedout #Mr.Pat’spushupsinthemiddleofclass #fieldtrips #CarnegieHall #Zoo #USM #EudoraWeltyHouse #crossingthestreettothePigandnotgettingrunover #DonutPalace #coffeeaddict #foodrun #walmartbus #whereisnurseTracey #floodonthe8th,7th,and6thfloor #dormlife #snowdays #LetItGo #fallingoffthetopbunk #nosleep #Mr.Benny’shats #bluehair #redhair #greenhair #purplehair #hipsters #procrastination #MSAlife

Once upon a time, we woke up to the sun kissing our window pane, telling us that today was going to be worth it-our hard work was worth it because right now, there are 3,030,000 kids that won’t be graduating this year and never will. That’s over 8,000 kids in America per day. In 2013, one in five students did not graduate high school with their peers, and class of 2014, be proud of yourself because now you can say that you beat over 3 million people at receiving a great education and having the chance to accomplish something they never will.

Once upon a time, we didn’t think we’d make it this far, but, congratulations, we did! Be proud of yourself because we were all once babies crying in our mothers’ arms, begging her to believe that we would make something of ourselves in this world, and we did.

Over these 18 years, I’ve realized that people shouldn’t ask “what is the meaning of life?” but instead “how can I add meaning to my life?” Though we still don’t know what we want to accomplish, whether or not we want to marry or have kids, move to a big city or stay close to home, at least we can say that we survived eight-to-five school days without our phones, went to rehearsal after rehearsal, spent hours working on Artoberfest, sacrificed weekends for recruiting, and become leaders, performers, best friends, shoulders to cry on, and smiles to share. Our meaning of life has transformed from being a class full of strangers from all over the state to a big, fat, awkward but loving family.

And none of us could have done it without the support of each other, our wonderful faculty, teachers, parents, relatives, and friends, so I want to give a special thanks to Joan Albert, Rose Albert, and Brandon Anderson. Love you guys. Thank you for everyone who came to MSA’s class of 2014 graduation! We wouldn’t have made it this far without you.

As a parting gift, I will end with a quote from John Green’s book, Looking for Alaska. “When adults say, “Teenagers think they are invincible” with that sly, stupid smile on their faces, they don’t know how right they are. We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken. We think that we are invincible because we are. We cannot be born, and we cannot die. Like all energy, we can only change shapes and sizes and manifestations. They forget that when they get old. They get scared of losing and failing. But that part of us greater than the sum of our parts cannot begin and cannot end, and so it cannot fail.”