On Wednesday, Leodis delivered a speech to his fellow graduating classmates. It was hard to hear against the echoey din of Municipal Auditorium. Here it is in full:
I AM THE CULMINATION OF A THOUSAND GENERATIONS OF HATE COMIN’ TOGETHER TO CREATE ME
I AM TRUTH IN THE SHAPE OF A TIDAL WAVE RIPPING APART THE PEOPLE TRYING TO ESCAPE ME
I BRING DEATH TO IGNORANCE
TURN AROUND THEN BREATHE BREATH INTO THE INNOCENT
AN ANGEL OF MERCY
THE FIRST THING ON MY MIND IS TO HEAL THE BLIND
BY OPENING THEIR EYES TO THE LIES THEY’VE BEEN TOLD
RESHAPIN’ MY PERCEPTION SO I NO LONGER FIT IN THE MOLD
A BARD FORGED IN THE FIRES OF CAPITALIST HELL
BEAT MY DRUM AS LOUD AS I CAN UNTIL BABYLON FELL
I AM MY MOTHERS SON AND MY FATHERS SPITTING IMAGE
AND IT’S FOR HIS SAKE THAT I’LL FIGHT ‘TIL THE FIGHT IS FINISHED
A WITNESS TO THE CARNAGE SCRIPTED ACCORDING TO THE VISIONS OF AN ESCAPED MENTAL PATIENT
IMPATIENTLY WAITING TO TAKE THE WORLD BY SURPRISE
LIKE THE LOOK ON THEIR FACES AS SOLARIS DIES
I AM A LIVING PARADOX AND THAT’S THE WAY THAT I LIKE IT
LIVING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX WITH MATCHES TO LIGHT IT
I’M DELIGHTED TO BE BORN OF THE BLACK AND THE WHITE
KEEPIN MY EYES CLOSED BECAUSE I’M AFRAID OF THE LIGHT
STILL TRYING TO DECIPHER BETWEEN THE WRONG AND THE RIGHT
ONLY TO FIND THAT GOOD AND EVIL DOESN’T EXIST
THE ENDS JUSTIFIES THE MEANS THAT’S WHAT THE TRUE LESSON IS
Good evening ladies and gentleman.
When I awoke this morning I realized two things. At first I realized that I had a chance. One last chance to leave an impression on you all. This was it, the last chance I would ever get to prove that I was something other than the nerd sitting by himself at the back of the bus. But, When I was much younger than I am now, I knew I was going to throw that last chance out the window. I’ve always known what I needed to say. In no situation have I ever been at a loss for words and now is no exception. As I stand here peering out at your faces the only word I can say with clear conscience… is sorry. Now I do realize that you may think that I’m being overly dramatic, but please, give me a chance to explain to you what I mean.
Four years. Four long years. I do realize that for some of our older patrons tonight, that four years is only a drop in the pond. But for my peers and me it’s a little over a fifth of our lives. Four years is longer than a lot of people have to live. It takes four seconds for someone to give up the ghost, to the children who never got a chance to breathe four years seems unfathomable. So I’m forced to ask myself that… that in the time people have lived and ended their lives, what have I done of importance? The unfortunate and inevitable answer was and is… nothing. The sad and miserable truth is that in one generation my name won’t mean anything to anybody. Four long years, and I have managed to change nothing.
It’s true that I have earned a diploma, that I’ve achieved a level of higher education the likes of which has been denied to my ancestors for centuries. But that education won’t help anyone but me. I can’t take the knowledge that I’ve accumulated over the last eighteen years and place it into the mind of someone else. Pretty words and good grades doesn’t fill a belly or help the hurt and sick. So once again, I’ll apologize for selfishly maintaining my focus on my own petty pursuits. I was so caught up over the last four years that I didn’t remember what was important. Now don’t get me wrong, an education is important. But should never be the only thing that makes life worth living. I’ve let myself become so consumed by obtaining the knowledge that I forgot to apply it. Not once have I used my skills, talents, or knowledge to make the world a better place.
That, and that alone, is the cause of my remorse.
I owe each and every one of you a debt of gratitude, and it’s one I fully intend to pay. Because over the last four years you have been the ones who helped me. I did a kind deed here a good turn there, but it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. Because I am who I am I’ve neglected my responsibility to you all. And I feel guilty, not because I feel personally responsible, but because I never got to know those lost friends of ours… our brothers and sisters who aren’t here. Those of us who should’ve been here. Those of us who were robbed of this honor. You all know those names, and I have no right to utter them here. Instead I’ll ask you all a favor. Make me a friend. Now I know this is a strange request, but I mean it. Make me one of those people you turn to when everyone else has turned away. The circumstances are inconsequential to me. I’ll do everything in my power to use what I have gained here to help you. All you’ve got to do is find me and my limited power is at your disposal. I pray that you all will do the same for me. And Yeah, I know it’s a little corny. But I don’t care because the other thing I realized when I woke up this morning… is that I like to help people.
Thank you all, and good luck.
Leodis will be attending Fisk University in Nashville this fall on a generous scholarship. He intends to become a doctor.