Every year, at some area private schools, seniors are expected to give speeches to the student body. Gilman Student Body President Alec Tarantino, a top student, member of the championship-winning soccer team and spirit committee participant, shares his senior speech which he delivered this spring. – The Eds.
I am, what you might call a romantic. I live in a world where every cute girl I meet has the potential to be my one true love, where every enemy is an evil villain waiting to be vanquished, and where I always have a chance to be the hero. Who among us didn’t grow up on tales of princesses and dragons, brave knights and vicious villains, magical men who could conjure a miracle with a flick of the wrist? Fairy tales and fantasy have been a part of my life since childhood, and it is to them that I attribute the romantic spirit that I maintain today.
Some say that dramatized tales of fantasy present a skewed picture of reality, that no one’s really that perfect or that things don’t always end up quite so happily ever after. Who am I kidding? I don’t have hair like Prince Charming, I don’t have abs like Leonidas, I can’t just walk up to a girl and sweep her off her feet. Hell, I don’t think I even know what love is. Nevertheless, looking to fantasy and fairy tales for inspiration has driven me to pursue a lifestyle of purpose and meaning. The Pulitzer Prize winning critic, Michael Dirda, once said, “In most instances, fantasy ultimately returns us to our own now re-enchanted world, reminding us that it is neither prosaic nor meaningless, and that how we live and what we do truly matters.”
On the surface, our lives can seem pretty meaningless. We get up, we go to school or work, we come home and we go to bed. There are no dragons to slay, no princesses to rescue, no battles to be won, no magic to be done. In today’s world, it becomes easier and easier to lose yourself in the mundane tedium of everyday life. And so, we seek to escape. I’m willing to bet that over 50 percent of this auditorium spent their Sunday night touring the seven kingdoms of Westeros enjoying an action packed hour of Game of Thrones. For one hour every Sunday, you can forget about that test or that quiz or that paper, and escape to another world. But when the hour is up, when the dragons and swordfights and magic are finished, you return. You return to this world and you cannot help but wish that you could go back.
On the surface, our lives can seem pretty meaningless. You watch a Lord of the Rings movie and you think, “hey, why can’t I live in Middle Earth, why don’t I get to slay orks and ride horses majestically across open plains?” And as soon as you do that, as soon as you commence in the pursuit of the romantic ideal, you begin to see the world through a different lens. You begin to pull back the veil of monotony that seems to blanket our very existence, and see that how you live, and what you do truly matters.
When I paint-up to lead the cheering section, I am Leonidas, King of Sparta, and I am inspiring my people to victory. Who cares if my abs aren’t quite so perfectly defined or if I’m just cheering instead of chopping people’s heads off? When you ask a girl out on a date, you are Prince Charming. Maybe she really is the love of your life, maybe she isn’t but regardless, open the door for her, pay for her meal, treat her with respect, ’cause that’s what Prince Charming would do.
Yes, fantasy and fairy tales are not real, and to some extent using them as inspiration for your own life does set you up for disappointment. I really did think I was a wizard. I probably dressed up as Harry Potter for Halloween about four years in a row at one point. I had the glasses, I had the robes, the fake scar, and when I turned 11 and Hagrid didn’t show up to get me, I’m not gonna lie, I was pissed. But as I’ve matured, I’ve come to look at Harry Potter not just as a wizard, but as a model leader, and friend. Maybe I’m not a wizard, but I can do a little magic of my own simply by reaching out to those in need. You don’t need a wand to stand up for what’s right. You can be a part of Dumbledore’s army; you can make a difference in this world just by refusing to judge a book by its cover and always leading by example.
Einstein once said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Some people look at fantasy solely as a means of escaping reality. What Einstein believed, however, and what I concur is that fantasy is not only a source of escape, but also a source of inspiration. Yes, there is something incredibly intriguing about magical worlds that are different than our own. Fantasy draws us in like nothing else and while we read or watch or listen we escape this world. But in the end, what makes fantasy so powerful is what it inspires us to do when we return. When we return and realize that every decision we make does matter, that there are battles to be fought right in the here and now and that being a man of honor does mean something.
What better example of honor exists than Aragorn from Lord of the Rings? Obviously, we are not all capable of slaying orcs by the thousands, but were we all to wake up, to break out of the idea that how we live and what we do doesn’t matter, and live a little bit more like Aragorn, maybe there wouldn’t be any cheating, maybe there wouldn’t be any lying or stealing and we could all look at that man in the mirror and be proud of what we saw. Aragorn can do anything and so can you. Find your Frodo and protect him, find your orcs and slay them, find your Legolas and Gimli and cherish their friendship.
Hans Christian Andersen, the author of The Little Mermaid once said, “Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale of all.” So maybe you’re not really a wizard, maybe you’re not Prince Charming, maybe entire armies don’t move at your command, and maybe things won’t end up completely perfect, but right here, in this world, there are still thrones to be claimed and dragons to be slain, princesses to pine over and mountains to climb over. And as long as you keep on believing, you’ll slay your dragon, you’ll rescue your princess, you’ll climb over your mountain whatever it may be and whether or not you find that perfect fairy tale ending you will find yourself, and you will live happily ever after.