Every year, we invite local high school seniors to share with us their senior speech, a tradition at many local private schools where a student addresses the student body on a subject of his or her choice. Today we feature the speech of Gilman School Senior Zane MacFarlane. Zane is senior class president and played the lead role of Joe (Boyd) Hardy in the recent musical production of “Damn Yankees.” He will attend Pomona College in the fall. Chirp, Zane.- The Eds.
The drums were slow at first as they ran around outside, “Dum, dumdumdum, Dum, dumdumdum…” Meanwhile in my cabin, I was lying down on top of my bunk bed, staring at the rafters. It was my third year at Camp Virginia, a place I loved and returned to every summer, and tonight the honor council – the most respected group of campers – were going around, inducting the newest members to their society. The process of induction was called “tapping.” It was a big deal at camp to get tapped, and I thought tonight was my night. The drums got faster and faster as you could hear the kids running around, circling every cabin, until they gathered in the center of the field. The drums stopped. There was silence, followed by a sharp “let’s go.” Chaos erupted as 20 or so kids screamed at the top of their lungs, entered my cabin, pulled me out of bed, threw me up and down outside, slapped me, pinched me, cheered for me, stripped my bed, and dumped my trunk of clothes everywhere. I had just been tapped into the honor council at Camp Virginia, and it was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Mr. Schmick, Ms. Turner, Mr. Smyth, Mom, Dad, faculty, students, and friends, I am here today to talk about magic moments.
Now, let me step back a bit and open things up to you all. Try to picture something, a moment in your life that gives you the goosebumps. Something you want to relive every day of your life so you can feel that energy and that passion again. Something that happened that made you feel some sort of never-ending joy or even ecstasy at that time… You can argue that ability or talent or skill are the most important things in life, but I believe that these moments I’m talking about drive my life. They give me energy, they give me electricity to keep doing what I love.
For some people it happens with amazing sporting events, family vacations, or epic adventures with your buddies, but for me, as I said, it comes with traditions – like the “tapping” by the honor council at camp or putting on a musical every spring or, more recently, helping to plan the McDonogh Pep Rally that I’ve been itching to be a part of since pre-first. Those moments are so special for me.
But as I’ve been getting older and older, everything starts to feel smaller or less intriguing – less mystical. Camp Virginia isn’t what it used to be for me anymore. When I was twelve it was a place full of spirit and wonder, but as a senior in high school, it just feels like a summer camp. Basically, the idea of everything losing its sparkle, losing its light as I age has really been bugging me lately.
Let me go back to Camp Virginia for a bit. Every year, the counselors would elect one to three of the oldest campers to lead the honor council the next year, and they’ve been doing it since 1924. It’s called the Spirit Award. So at the end of the awards ceremony, they would turn off all the lights and the past Spirit Boy winners would read off all the names on the big board from 1924 with a flashlight. When they got to this year’s Spirit Boy, they ripped off the tape, yelled out their names, and then kidnapped the new Spirit Boys out of the building and threw him in the river a bunch of times and threw this nasty concoction of water and mud and mustard and stuff all over him and dragged him back into the award ceremony… I’m sorry if this sounds like some crazy cult or a hazing ceremony at a frat, but it was camp, and it was the biggest deal for all of the campers. It was the craziest night ever.
But, as I’ve been saying, the ceremony seemed less and less magical year after year, that is, until the year that I was eligible to win it. The night of the award ceremony, I started getting all of those emotions and the awestruck anticipation that I felt when I was ten years old. They went through all the names again, and when they announced this year’s Spirit Boy winners, it was Scott Schutte and Churchill Young, two great guys.
I thought I was disappointed at first, but after a while, I realized I didn’t really care about it anymore. That’s what upset me. How could I let this happen? Ever since that moment I haven’t been able to experience those magic feelings about the Spirit Award and Camp Virginia not because I didn’t win the award, but because for the first time in my life I lost my passion for something when the moment passed.
To be honest, I started to get that feeling again this year when I thought about myself being a senior. To me, I do not seem nearly as cool or as mysterious or as powerful as the seniors were when I was a freshman. I don’t think I even come close to being like them, and I think it’s a feeling that a lot of seniors share. It really frustrates me. How can you never become what you’ve looked up to all your life? It doesn’t make sense. You feel let down.
There’s this song by Radiohead called “Let Down” that perfectly sums up my feelings. The music, the guitar, the bass, and the synthesizers in the background all start to build up, just like a magic moment in real life would. But then, when the music reaches its climax, Thom York, the singer of Radiohead, sings “Let down and hanging around. Crushed like a bug on the ground.” It’s perfect, that’s exactly what happens when the special moment passes by, you feel left out, you feel like everything is over, never quite reaching its potential.
That killed me, it depressed me. I couldn’t go back to the fleeting moments in my memory because it just made me feel sick and jealous. Those days spent laughing around with my best friend are gone, he’s far away.
But you can’t just erase anything from your memory to get over it, right? As I continued to mull over this subject, I began to look at it from a different angle.
There had to be a way to take these magic moments and make them positive in your memory. That’s where my passion for music, art, and literature started to kick in, my passion for creativity. I started to realize that if you put these moments – during or right after them – on paper through memoir or fiction or poetry or if you put them into music or if you attempt to start up a tradition at school that brings the same sort of spirit that lived at Camp Virginia, you can revisit them and get that same rush of feeling all over again, that same rush of wonder and magic just like the good old days. Using creativity to capture the moment cannot actually bring you back into the past, but it gives birth to the spirit in a new form.
Alright, so raise your hand if you have no clue what I’m talking about, or at least struggling a bit. Okay, try thinking of it this way: If you are part of something that feels like it is sweeping you off your feet, if you’re putting on a musical or having an amazing sports season or you’re on senior retreat, try writing something down that night to capture the emotion. It can just be a sentence or two, or a couple of words. Try coming back to it a week later, a year later, heck, ten years later and see how you feel. Although I haven’t really tested the whole ten years thing, I bet it’s worth it.
I’ll tell you why “Let Down” by Radiohead is my all-time favorite song now. It speaks to me about the whole process of being caught up in the moment of something special developing, occurring, passing, but then being able to retrieve it and bring forth new hope again and again. It’s beautiful.
So now, what’s next? I, along with the rest of the seniors, now face a big challenge. Our time here at Gilman is up. I still gotta write a couple more papers and take a Bio exam on Monday, but other than that, for me and the rest of the seniors, Gilman is starting to get away from us, we’re going. June 9th we’ll be out of here for good, and then there’s senior week and college (and then it will really be behind us)… I’m experiencing a strange mixture of wanting to hold onto Gilman as well as wanting to get out of here and travel to Wyoming and California, my next ventures. I’m sure a lot of you in the room feel the same way. We do have to let go, but still, we have to do justice to our amazing time here. We can’t just leave and not do anything about it.
We have to do something, something for everything we will miss about Gilman: our senior class, Ernie, the senior room or lack thereof, superfrees, Chipotle, cheering at games, Mr. Smyth’s fire safety announcements, Dr. Thornberry’s winter jogging monologues, treasure hunts, homecoming dance, sweater vest Wednesdays, let’s go O’s chants, pep rallies, cookouts, Mr. Dawson on Halloween, Writing Center videos, the senior retreat, the yearbook, spirit week, senior countdown announcements, walking to Carey Hall from the lower lots watching the sun hit the cupola, wondering if we could ever find our way up there, why’d they build it if you can never get up there? I’m gonna find a way up there.
Thank you for letting me be me, Zane, I’m a really lucky guy to have such great people around me. To all of you younger guys out there, good luck, you’re gonna do great things. Seniors, I don’t think I need to say anything else – I love you guys and I’m gonna miss you guys so much, but I’ll be seeing you around until we’re gone. The moment’s not over yet. Thanks.