Every senior at our high school is invited to write a commencement speech. The following speech was written by my daughter. It wasn't chosen to be delivered, but the selection committee wished for it to be shared, so they printed it in the school newspaper. I'm incredibly proud of Faith for writing with such courage and candor about her experience being an outcast in high school. If this resonates with you, please share it. Faith and I would love for her speech to find as large an audience as possible. Thanks!
So, without further ado, I present "Anthem to the Outcast in All of Us" by Faith Ferber
I am a loser.
No, really. I’m the kid who had nobody to sit with in the caf. The one who cringed when teachers told us to find a partner. I knew I’d be last picked. I can count on one hand the number of people who were genuinely kind to me from 8:10 to 3:14 each day. Everyone knows Deerfield High School has some of the best academics in the country, but I’ve learned more from my experience of being a loser than I have from any class I’ve taken. This is not a speech of self-pity. This is an anthem to the outcasts, an anthem to the future challenges we face and the resilient nature I hope you all will carry with you.
If you can’t already relate to my story, you probably will be able to some day. The truth is, no matter how popular or pretty or athletic or talented you seem, none of us are immune from becoming a loser. We will all, at one point or another, worry we won’t fit in. Perhaps you won't get into a sorority. Or you could get fired from your job. And if statistics mean anything, half of us will end up divorced. If by chance you get through all of that without feeling like a loser, I’m pretty sure we can agree that your future kids will let you know just how uncool you really are. But here’s the thing: being a loser makes us human. It teaches us resilience. It forces us to develop self-esteem. And most importantly, I hope it empowers us to be kind.
I am as extroverted as they come. Having nowhere to sit at lunch and no one to spend my free periods with was a terrifying experience for someone who thrives off of social interaction. Instead of letting those roadblocks cripple me, I used them to my advantage. I spent every lunch in the College and Career Resource Center, where I can now confidently say I know enough about college to work next to Ms. Hinden. I spent my free periods in Mrs. Halpern’s room getting my homework done. Despite the social challenges I faced, I never gave up, and because of that, I opened myself up to bigger and better experiences. Who knew I could get straight A’s if I just actually did my homework? I even fostered new relationships with my parents, whom I realized really aren’t as lame as I once thought.
As we move on to a post-high school world, hurdles are inevitable. We can choose to be afraid, turn around and walk back to the start line, or we can jump the hurdle and make our way to the end. I encourage you all to jump. It will be scary. Your foot may even get caught on the hurdle as you tumble over. That’s okay. We are all capable of picking ourselves up and moving on. If I had chosen to surrender, I would have nothing important to say here.
In a generation of multi-taskers, we often try to accomplish things as fast as possible, lacking precision in the process. We have learned that “good enough” is acceptable. As a high school student, I frequently hear people rushing their thoughts, caring more about what they want to say than what they are saying. You are not “literally” dying, and I sincerely hope your parents aren’t “literally” going to kill you when you come home with that speeding ticket. And although the incorrect usage of this word is annoying, I have noticed another word that I find much more disheartening when improperly used. That word is self-esteem. The key word is self. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “So-and-so has a crush on my friend and not me. It totally killed my self-esteem.” Confidence comes from within. We are told this constantly, but I, at least, did not fully understand it until I became a grade-A loser. When you don’t have friends and it seems as if you must really not be as cool as you think you are, it’s natural to start feeling bad. That is why I have come up with a quick trick to remind myself of my own worth. When I’m feeling like I’m a terrible person, I stop, take a deep breath, and say two things I like about myself. It can be external, like an earlobe, or internal, like my compassion towards others. I’ve learned that just naming two qualities truly helps my self-esteem. Because how can you feel worthless when you have such a gorgeous earlobe? Seriously though, because this exercise is focused on crediting your own value, I believe it boosts your confidence levels in a much stronger way than having someone else validate you as a human being. And interestingly enough, once you get used to feeling good about two parts of yourself, it gets easier to feel good about more and more until you truly love yourself, even with love handles, a big nose, or ears that stick out. In college, our self-confidence will be tested and scrutinized. Will you conform to what others want you to be? Or will you stay true to yourself, stay true to the two parts you name, and show others what self-esteem really looks like?
In late March and early April, two suicides at nearby schools hit many of us hard. We wore yellow to raise awareness. We posted Facebook statuses about kindness, understanding the simple healing power we possessed. And for a few days, people thought twice before picking on the loser. Shortly after, the bombings at the Boston marathon demonstrated how quickly our lives can be turned upside down. We encouraged each other to be the best person we know how to be because life is short. But how quickly will we forget the lessons of these tragedies?
I write these words with the knowledge of what it means to be on the other side of the story. Many of you know that I used to be a bully. Not like in the movies. I didn’t shove kids into lockers or steal their lunch money. I was a North Shore bully. I beat people with my words. I demeaned people with my indifference. I used to believe that being mean to the losers was fine because that’s what they were used to. It took me many years to realize how painful that kind of bullying is for both the victims and the perpetrators. I wish I could go back in time and act differently. I would reach out to the bullied, the kids sitting alone at lunch or standing in the corner at recess. I would prove to people that being kind is cooler than being a bully. I cannot change my actions in the past, but I have control over my future. I have control over now. I’m so sorry to those I have hurt.
Being a loser has taught me how truly incredible kindness is. I have learned that there is a difference between being kind and not being mean. The majority of you have not been mean to me. I appreciate this, I truly do. But most of my peers ignored my presence altogether. For the handful of you who have been kind, you are truly wonderful. Thank you for encouraging me to apply for a job at your workplace. Thank you for enthusiastically shouting out my name in the hallway. Thank you for asking me if I wanted to study with you. We are all aware of the Golden Rule. It’s time to follow through. It’s okay to smile at the loser. Remember, you are or will be a loser, too. The bystander effect is an extremely dangerous part of our society. It has taught us to believe that we do not need to have that extra ounce of courage, we do not need to put ourselves out there in order to help others. We tell ourselves someone else will do it. When everyone feels they are not responsible, we all become responsible for the ensuing damage. Be the person who takes a stand. Be the person who can walk away with no regrets, who can walk away knowing they made someone’s day better. Small acts of kindness can make an incredible impact.
Being a loser has not been easy. If I could do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t But I am thankful for the lessons I have learned. As an outcast at Deerfield High School, I have been shoved into the face of reality, and I have come out on the other side ready to take on the world with resiliency, confidence, and kindness.
Faith with two of the kids who were genuinely kind to her this year.