Our thanks to a former teacher of Suzanne’s, Bob Wiener,
for providing the program and a copy of the speech below.
At that time, San Marcos High did not name a valedictorian and salutatorian per se. The two student speeches were given by the most outstanding students as chosen by the faculty.
Delivered by Suzanne Rathz
San Marcos High School
Santa Barbara, Calif.
14 June 1972
Friends of San Marcos and Fellow Graduates:
Gaps—ours is the era of gaps. Gaps between generations, credibility gaps, gaps between the people and the politicians, and gaps in understanding between minority groups and those in power—all of which are publicized and all of which are lamented.
But there is another gap, more painful and more subtle, one that, although it has missed the newspaper columns and TV situation comedies, affects this generation uniquely and profoundly.
It is the gap between our expectations and our realizations—the distance between what we as eighth graders expected out of high school and what we as twelfth graders have received—and it is the distance between what we as twelfth graders have until now expected out of life and what our lives are shaping up to be. It is that distance, that fulfillment gap that makes our generation different from any other—unique, not only in what we have had, but in what we have missed.
On a small scale, that of the distance between the eight grader and the graduation senior, the gap manifests itself as an unfulfilled promise of homecoming dances, football games, and clothes that we were, for so long, “too young” to wear. From Junior High, it was these things that made high school, but when we got there, they were no longer important.
On a far lager sale, we stand here on the graduation speech cliche’ of the threshold of life, and we se still more unfulfilled expectations. Where six years ago, there were four years of college, the boy next door and 2.3 kids as a foregone conclusion, there is now a question mark surrounded by a lot of empty space, and women’s liberation, Paul Ehrlich, and a new definition of fulfillment emphasizing individual freedom,
It was through our own revised perceptions of reality that change came. We asked for relevancy and we got it, and now we have on one to congratulate or blame but ourselves. But that doesn’t erase the empty place inn us that is still waiting for a set of priorities that will never materialize. We asked for, and received the chance to establish our own priorities—and this privilege, like so many others, carries a heavy responsibility that is just beginning to make itself felt—the responsibility of independent decision.
This is more than an identity crisis because it involves more than identities. Rather it encompasses entire sets of expectations and values made obsolete by our own demands for honest answers.
The results of these unfulfilled promises and expectations can be measured in something far more tangible than emptiness,. Unfulfilled promises breed a fear—a fear to hope, a fear to care—they give birth to the tragic cliché’ of apathy,. If the rug is pulled from under anyone often enough or powerfully enough, they will learn to resist caring, and that above all is what we members of the class of 1972 are facing today—a resistance to caring.
It is not really apathy when nobody votes in class elections or when only the cheer-leaders cheer at pep rallies. That is only a conflict between a set of priorities that says such things are important and one that does not.
Apathy is the defeated cynicism that prevents people from allowing themselves to care when they really want to. It is the student who refuses to work on a political campaign because nothing he could do would make a difference anyway, who doesn’t run for an ASB office he really wants because ASB government is a farce anyway, or who doesn’t try out for a team he wants to be part of because, like any team, it could lose and, worse yet, he could be the cause of that loss.
During my years and San Marcos I have heard these excuses time and time again—excuses that are, in reality, cowardice fashionably masked as cynical apathy. And it is this apathy, this refusal to hope that will come between this generation and fulfillment in a way that nothing else can.
Why? It is the same principle that makes a frustrating tragedy out of public forums when the public stays home—or out of letters to the editor that go unwritten. It is tragic because unless we go after what we want and have the courage to fight for it, even when we stand a good chance of losing, we are dooming ourselves to the permanent frustration of unachieved goals. We felt the letdown of unfulfilled promises a product of our own demands. We demanded the option of deciding our own priorities, an now we are feeling the hurt of disorganized goals—a hurt that will remain until we muster the courage to reorganize those priorities and ad it the importance of specific goals.
Apathy and fear are the culprits, and the courage to care about and work for anything that we deep down want—be it a political candidate or a material object—are the cures.
Graduation speeches traditionally acknowledge that the future lies ahead and that the past has already happened. To that I would add that the rest of our lives lines in that future and that it is the responsibility of us, the graduating class of 1972, to bring to it the courage to let that future be important and to mold it into one worth living in.